Dan drinks the Kool-Aid

Well, this is a surprise: Dan Pacheco has just announced he's going to build Printcasting on the Drupal framework. Dan's done great work creating bespoke systems for the Bakersfield Californian. Switching to Drupal is a big step, but one that could help bring more participation in the project and better satisfaction of the Knight foundation's open-source objectives.


Bespoke? You make me sound like a boutique owner. Well, maybe that does describe some of what we do. Niche-focused products are all about bending over backwards to serve the unique needs of a specific audience. Back in 2004, before the Californian had Bakotopia or any niche products or technology to speak of, we looked at Drupal. I liked the way it was structured, but it had stability issues and just wasn't all there yet (I used it on my blog for a good 4 months before it crashed and took all of my postings with it). The Californian couldn't wait for the perfect open-source solution to emerge and I didn't want to risk staking the future of this 140-year-old media company on a promising, but at the time still adolescent, technology. So we started "rolling our own" and ended up with the Bakomatic platform. That was the right thing to do at the time, and we will continue to use and enhance the system. It still has some unique functionality and experiences that don't exist in Drupal -- for example, the Inside Guide business directory and a Facebook-like Inbox. And in some respects we can innovate faster with it because we don't have any external dependencies on other projects. However, we don't have any strong religion about proprietary technology, or any technology for that matter. Whenever a new need comes up we think first about the end-user and specific business goals, and then see how different technology solutions meet those needs. We're technology agnostics. Printcasting is unique for us in that it needs to work really well in Bakersfield, then be quickly adopted by partners in five other cities, and finally made available to anyone under an open-source license. Building the features on our own proprietary platform was one solution that would have required releasing some or all of our code to the open source community. We briefly considered doing that, but then realized that technology was only half of the picture. We also needed an open-source community. We decided that the project would have a bigger overall impact if it was connected to an existing open-source movement versus trying to start our own competing movement. Four years after our initial evalutation, Drupal is well out of its adolescence and is an ideal launching pad for almost any social media tool. By making modules for the consumer-facing pieces and tying them into PDF generation on the backend (which by the way would not be done by Drupal, but the end-user will never know or care), we know that thousands of existing Drupal sites and many more thousands to come will experiment with what we build. Not only that, they will take what we do and make it better. That's perfectly aligned with the goals of the Knight News Challenge. Will the Californian use Drupal for more projects? Maybe, or maybe not, depending on the project. We're also now using Ning sites as a low-cost way to serve smaller niche audiences. If they show promise, we invest more resources and move them into our larger network. If not, it's really easy to shut down a Ning site. Ning didn't even exist when we started down the path of social media. In another four years who knows what else will be out there? Drupal is looking really good now based on our current needs, and it may continue to look good in another four years. But if there's one thing I've learned it's that innovation relies on flexibility and open-mindedness. The minute you put a stake in the ground, you're cutting off your options and your rate of innovation slows down. The newspaper industry is always looking for one silver bullet -- perhaps because it relied on one solution (the daily printed newspaper) for its entire existence -- and that's a problem. Innovation is an ever-evolving process that requires constant experimentation, evaluation and change.