DrupalCon 2016: Thinking About 'What If' Instead of 'How To'


Breaking down a trade show booth is a melancholy experience. Like the day after Christmas, with the excitement gone and exhaustion kicking in, it’s hard not to feel a little bit down.

Your feet hurt ... the remaining swag sits in sad piles ... yet you feel overwhelmingly satisfied with the whole affair.

While trying to remember how to disassemble the booth (yet again, I forget every year) at DrupalConLA, I thought about the last four days. It was great to see some familiar faces in the Drupal community and meet folks in person who, up until then, I’d only ever talked to on Skype. But over the past few years I’ve had the growing feeling that something has been missing.

Being more on the design side, my options, in terms of sessions, are always limited. Not that I don’t find DevOps engaging. It’s a technology conference; I don’t take it personally. And to be fair, the UX track has vastly improved year over year and I greatly appreciate all the speakers and their hard work. There’s lots of good information at a tactical level—responsive images, prototyping methods, SVGs, workflow, etc.—yet there’s a distinct lack of big-picture ideas, aside from Dries’ keynote. But even the coveted Driesnote this year, although interesting, was not quite as inspiring as in years past.

The lukewarm 2015 Driesnote was interesting, but not necessarily visionary.

What I would like to see from DrupalCon 2016 is more distant-future stuff. Game-changing ideas. I suppose what I’m looking for is a dash of TED at DrupalCon, a sprinkle of Tesla or SXSW. Maybe once Drupal 8 is released, and everyone can start using it for real, the exciting R&D stuff will start to appear. Let me be clear, I’m sure there is cool stuff going on from a technical level, but I’m not a developer. I’ll be honest, I need some Tony Stark-ness to get me going. Some Elon Musk-itude. You know, pizzazz! 

Musk's Tesla Powerwall presentation is blend of excitement, sexiness and possibility.

Perhaps what’s needed next year is a focus on how Drupal 8 might make changes. Big changes, the kind that push the limits and have people saying “that would only ever work if..." How could a healthcare site on Drupal 8 running Personalize and ContextDB improve the patient experience? How could the native app market be upset with an Uber or Instagram MVP running on Drupal? How could Drupal sites spin up to help disaster relief efforts on the ground? I think there is enormous opportunity to talk about big problems when so many people come together.

From my perspective, none of these ideas need be case studies or proven concepts—there’s plenty of that at DrupalCon, in addition to hands-on learning. And it’s great. But if we replaced some of the “how-to” with some more “what if” thinking, a kind of momentum would begin to grow. Healthy competitions demoing prototypes or showcases could highlight innovations. Rising stars would have a spotlight for ideas and contributions. Big problems no team or agency could solve on their own might have a chance of being solved, or at least, considered. Meanwhile, the entire community as a whole might start looking beyond the next release.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking, or maybe it’s just a challenge. In the spirit of open source, maybe it falls to someone like us to just try it and see what happens. Perhaps some big ideas might alleviate those post-tradeshow blues and give us something to think about on the plane ride home.