Dive into Drupal 8 ... Or Wait?


We’re riding the wave. The hype is at its peak, the anticipation is palpable.

We’re reading the blogs and playing with alpha releases, adapting workflows and learning new technologies. After years of aspirational keynotes and thousands of hours of dedicated work by the community, Drupal 8 is approaching its inevitable release date.

It’s hard not to get caught up in D8 fever. It’s pretty great, truth be told. But like anything with this much hype, there’s a question lurking just below the surface.

When it finally comes out, will you be the first in the pool?

Your first thought might be “of course, duh and/or hola.” But it’s not that simple. In fact, the phenomenon of early adoption has been studied in detail. The data shows that early adoption is inherently risky and few people are prone to it. In, fact, about 2.5% of people are classified as “Innovators,” or the first ones to cannonball into the still, empty pool.

These bold pioneers are willing to try almost anything, despite the risk of a technology or product totally failing (the equivalent of the pool being ice cold, or having been an unfortunate receptacle for the pre-school swim class). The rest of us, on the other hand, are perfectly comfortable waiting to see if the water is warm before jumping in.

In this classic TED Talk, Derek Sivers does a fantastic job describing leadership and early adoption in three minutes, illustrated by an amusing concertgoer caught on video.

Derek describes the innovator, or leader, as willing to be ridiculed, though ready to accept others into the movement as equals. As the behavior becomes more widely accepted, the risk for adoption decreases and more people jump on board until everyone is doing it.

The question is: how will the Drupal community react when Drupal 8 is finally released? We’ve  been clamoring for it for years, but how many of us will readily dive right in when the time comes?

For all the hype around smart watches, particularly the Apple Watch, the numbers for adoption have been relatively low. I myself drooled at the keynote videos showing the amazing engineering, the flawless design and the tight integration with the iPhone and other apps. But I don’t own one, and I don’t think it’s a price thing. I'm really just waiting for version 2, once they work out all the bugs and the ecosystem is stable. Meanwhile, rare smart-watched strangers meet in public and exchange sideways glances followed by confident, knowing nods. Innovator validation in action.

So what does the impulse to “wait and see” felt by most of us mean for Drupal 8? Let’s assume those statistics above are right, and only 2.5% of us are innovators, are the ones that will truly dance as if no one is watching and start using Drupal 8—all in, no-holds-barred. There are around 1.25 million Drupal projects in use right now, roughly estimated. Let’s say 10% of those projects represent individual community members (to compensate for teams and companies). Based on that estimated community size of 125,000 developers, that means only 3,125 people could be jumping in the deep end on day one, based on this innovator/early adoption model.

Only 3,000 people using Drupal 8 on day one? It’s hard to believe that after all this time adoption numbers could be this low. There are several other factors that could limit Drupal 8’s initial adoption, such as:

  • The human propensity to resist change. We get stuck in our ways and don’t want to adapt, especially when things are comfortable. This quirk of human nature is something we all battle, and it’s a factor when any new technology platform comes around.
  • The knowledge gap. Drupal 8 is fundamentally different. I’m not a developer, but the ones I work with are definitely preparing for a massive overhaul in thinking and process. Drupal has had a reputation for steep learning curves, and they are about to get steeper. Or a better metaphor might a more gradual slope on a completely different mountain.
  • The work of rebuilding contributed modules. This is the big one. No technology stands on its own nowadays. Everything, it seems, is now an ecosystem, a biosphere or an environment in the clouds. With Drupal, it’s the community of contributed modules that help it thrive. Granted, a lot of functionality once found only in separate modules will be part of core in Drupal 8. But there are hundreds (if not thousands) of modules that will need to catch up, which is a lot of work for what are essentially volunteers.

These three factors combined are going to make the year after Drupal 8 launches a tough one. The bottom line: we need to be innovators. A measly 2.5% of the population isn’t going to cut it to get the momentum Drupal 8 needs to get moving. So hobbyist, freelancers and agencies alike—let’s take a deep breath, let go of the fear and dive in together.