Drupal 8.2, now with more outside-in

Over the weekend, Drupal 8.2 beta was released. One of the reasons why I'm so excited about this release is that it ships with "more outside-in". In an "outside-in experience", you can click anything on the page, edit its configuration in place without having to navigate to the administration back end, and watch it take effect immediately. This kind of on-the-fly editorial experience could be a game changer for Drupal's usability.

When I last discussed turning Drupal outside-in, we were still in the conceptual stages, with mockups illustrating the concepts. Since then, those designs have gone through multiple rounds of feedback from Drupal's usability team and a round of user testing led by Cheppers. This study identified some issues and provided some insights which were incorporated into subsequent designs.

Two policy changes we introduced in Drupal 8 — semantic versioning and experimental modules — have fundamentally changed Drupal's innovation model starting with Drupal 8. I should write a longer blog post about this, but the net result of those two changes is ongoing improvements with an easy upgrade path. In this case, it enabled us to add outside-in experiences to Drupal 8.2 instead of having to wait for Drupal 9. The authoring experience improvements we made in Drupal 8 are well-received, but that doesn't mean we are done. It's exciting that we can move much faster on making Drupal easier to use.

In-place block configuration

As you can see from the image below, Drupal 8.2 adds the ability to trigger "Edit" mode, which currently highlights all blocks on the page. Clicking on one — in this case, the block with the site's name — pops out a new tray or sidebar. A content creator can change the site name directly from the tray, without having to navigate through Drupal's administrative interface to theme settings as they would have to in Drupal 7 and Drupal 8.1.

Editing the site name using outside-in

Making adjustments to menus

In the second image, the pattern is applied to a menu block. You can make adjustments to the menu right from the new tray instead of having to navigate to the back end. Here the content creator changes the order of the menu links (moving "About us" after "Contact") and toggles the "Team" menu item from hidden to visible.

Editing the menu using outside-in

In-context block placement

In Drupal 8.1 and prior, placing a new block on the page required navigating away from your front end into the administrative back end and noting the available regions. Once you discover where to go to add a block, which can in itself be a challenge, you'll have to learn about the different regions, and some trial and error might be required to place a block exactly where you want it to go.

Starting in Drupal 8.2, content creators can now just click "Place block" without navigating to a different page and knowing about available regions ahead of time. Clicking "Place block" will highlight the different possible locations for a block to be placed in.

Placing a block using outside-in

Next steps

These improvements are currently tagged "experimental". This means that anyone who downloads Drupal 8.2 can test these changes and provide feedback. It also means that we aren't quite satisfied with these changes yet and that you should expect to see this functionality improve between now and 8.2.0's release, and even after the Drupal 8.2.0 release.

As you probably noticed, things still look pretty raw in places; as an example, the forms in the tray are exposing too many visual details. There is more work to do to bring this functionality to the level of the designs. We're focused on improving that, as well as the underlying architecture and accessibility. Once we feel good about how it all works and looks, we'll remove the experimental label.

We deliberately postponed most of the design work to focus on introducing the fundamental concepts and patterns. That was an important first step. We wanted to enable Drupal developers to start experimenting with the outside-in pattern in Drupal 8.2. As part of that, we'll have to determine how this new pattern will apply broadly to Drupal core and the many contributed modules that would leverage it. Our hope is that once the outside-in work is stable and no longer experimental, it will trickle down to every Drupal module. At that point we can all work together, in parallel, on making Drupal much easier to use.

Users have proven time and again in usability studies to be extremely "preview-driven", so the ability to make quick configuration changes right from their front end, without becoming an expert in Drupal's information architecture, could be revolutionary for Drupal.

If you'd like to help get these features to stable release faster, please join us in the outside-in roadmap issue.

Thank you

I'd also like to thank everyone who contributed to these features and reviewed them, including Bojhan, yoroy, pwolanin, andrewmacpherson, gtamas, petycomp, zsofimajor, SKAUGHT, nod_, effulgentsia, Wim Leers, catch, alexpott, and xjm.

And finally, a special thank you to Acquia's outside-in team for driving most of the design and implementation: tkoleary, webchick, tedbow, Gábor Hojtsy, tim.plunkett, and drpal.

Acquia's outside in team
Acquia's outside-in team celebrating that the outside-in patch was committed to Drupal 8.2 beta. Go team!

Drupal goes to Rio

Rio olympic stadium

As the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro enters its second and final week, it's worth noting that the last time I blogged about Drupal and the Olympics was way back in 2008 when I called attention to the fact that Nike was running its sponsorship site on Drupal 6 and using Drupal's multilingual capabilities to deliver their message in 13 languages.

While watching some track and field events on television, I also spent a lot of time on my laptop with the NBC Olympics website. It is a site that has run on Drupal for several years, and this year I noticed they took it up a notch and did a redesign to enhance the overall visitor experience.

Last week NBC issued a news release that it has streamed over one billion minutes of sports via their site so far. That's a massive number!

I take pride in knowing that an event as far-reaching as the Olympics is being delivered digitally to a massive audience by Drupal. In fact, some of the biggest sporting leagues around the globe run their websites off of Drupal, including NASCAR, the NBA, NFL, MLS, and NCAA. Massive events like the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, and the Olympics run on Drupal, making it the chosen platform for global athletic organizations.

Rio website

Rio press release

Update on August 24: This week, the NBC Sports Group issued a press release stating that the Rio 2016 Olympics was the most successful media event in history! Digital coverage across NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app set records, with 3.3 billion total streaming minutes, 2.71 billion live streaming minutes, and 100 million unique users. According to the announcement, live streaming minutes for the Rio games nearly doubled that of all Olympic games combined, and digital coverage amassed 29 percent more unique users than the London Olympics four years prior. Drupal was proud to be a part of the largest digital sporting event in history. Looking forward to breaking more records in the years to come!

Setting higher standards for corporate contributions to Drupal

Last week I made a comment on Twitter that I'd like to see Pantheon contribute more to Drupal core. I wrote that in response to the announcement that Pantheon has raised a $30 million Series C. Pantheon has now raised $50 to $60 million dollars of working capital (depending on Industry Ventures' $8.5M) and is in a special class of companies. This is an amazing milestone. Though it wasn't meant that way, Pantheon and Acquia compete for business and my Tweet could be read as a cheap attack on a competitor, and so it resulted in a fair amount of criticism. Admittedly, Pantheon was neither the best nor the only example to single out. There are many companies that don't contribute to Drupal at all – and Pantheon does contribute to Drupal in a variety of ways such as sponsoring events and supporting the development of contributed modules. In hindsight, I recognize that my tweet was not one of my best, and for that I apologize.

Having said that, I'd like to reiterate something I've said before, in my remarks at DrupalCon Amsterdam and many times on this blog: I would like to see more companies contribute more to Drupal core – with the emphasis on "core". Drupal is now relied upon by many, and needs a strong base of commercial contributors. We have to build Drupal together. We need a bigger and more diverse base of organizations taking on both leadership and contribution.

Contribution to Drupal core is the most important type of contribution in terms of the impact it can make. It touches every aspect of Drupal and all users who depend on it. Long-term and full-time contribution to core is not within everyone's reach. It typically requires larger investment due to a variety of things: the complexity of the problems we are solving, our need for stringent security and the importance of having a rigorous review-process. So much is riding on Drupal for all of us today. While every module, theme, event and display of goodwill in our community is essential, contributions to core are quite possibly the hardest and most thankless, but also the most rewarding of all when it comes to Drupal's overall progress and success.

I believe we should have different expectations for different organizations based on their maturity, their funding, their profitability, how strategic Drupal is for them, etc. For example, sponsoring code sprints is an important form of contribution for small or mid-sized organizations. But for any organization that makes millions of dollars with Drupal, I would hope for more.

The real question that we have to answer is this: at what point should an organization meaningfully contribute to Drupal core? Some may say "never", and that is their Open Source right. But as Drupal's project lead it is also my right and responsibility to encourage those who benefit from Drupal to give back. It should not be taboo for our community to question organizations that don't pull their weight, or choose not to contribute at all.

For me, committing my workdays and nights to Drupal isn't the exhausting part of my job. It's dealing with criticism that comes from false or incomplete information, or tackling differences in ideals and beliefs. I've learned not to sweat the small stuff, but it's on important topics like giving back that my emotions and communication skills get tested. I will not apologize for encouraging organizations to contribute to Drupal core. It's a really important topic and one that I'm very passionate about. I feel good knowing that I'm pushing these conversations from inside the arena rather than from the sidelines, and for the benefit of the Drupal project at large.

City of Boston launches Boston.gov on Drupal

The before and after of Boston.gov

Yesterday the City of Boston launched its new website, Boston.gov, on Drupal. Not only is Boston a city well-known around the world, it has also become my home over the past 9 years. That makes it extra exciting to see the city of Boston use Drupal.

As a company headquartered in Boston, I'm also extremely proud to have Acquia involved with Boston.gov. The site is hosted on Acquia Cloud, and Acquia led a lot of the architecture, development and coordination. I remember pitching the project in the basement of Boston's City Hall, so seeing the site launched less than a year later is quite exciting.

The project was a big undertaking as the old website was 10 years old and running on Tridion. The city's digital team, Acquia, IDEO, Genuine Interactive, and others all worked together to reimagine how a government can serve its citizens better digitally. It was an ambitious project as the whole website was redesigned from scratch in 11 months; from creating a new identity, to interviewing citizens, to building, testing and launching the new site.

Along the way, the project relied heavily on feedback from a wide variety of residents. The openness and transparency of the whole process was refreshing. Even today, the city made its roadmap public at http://roadmap.boston.gov and is actively encouraging citizens to submit suggestions. This open process is one of the many reasons why I think Drupal is such a good fit for Boston.gov.

Boston gov tell us what you think

More than 20,000 web pages and one million words were rewritten in a more human tone to make the site easier to understand and navigate. For example, rather than organize information primarily by department (as is often the case with government websites), the new site is designed around how residents think about an issue, such as moving, starting a business or owning a car. Content is authored, maintained, and updated by more than 20 content authors across 120 city departments and initiatives.

Boston gov tools and apps

The new Boston.gov is absolutely beautiful, welcoming and usable. And, like any great technology endeavor, it will never stop improving. The City of Boston has only just begun its journey with Boston.gov - I’m excited see how it grows and evolves in the years to come. Go Boston!

Boston gov launch event
Boston gov launch event
Boston gov launch event
Last night there was a launch party to celebrate the launch of Boston.gov. It was an honor to give some remarks about this project alongside Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (pictured above), as well as Lauren Lockwood (Chief Digital Officer of the City of Boston) and Jascha Franklin-Hodge (Chief Information Officer of the City of Boston).

A roadmap for making Drupal more API-first

In one of my recent blog posts, I articulated a vision for the future of Drupal's web services, and at DrupalCon New Orleans, I announced the API-first initiative for Drupal 8. I believe that there is considerable momentum behind driving the web services initiative. As such, I want to provide a progress report, highlight some of the key people driving the work, and map the proposed vision from the previous blog post onto a rough timeline.

Here is a bird's-eye view of the plan for the next twelve months:

8.2 (Q4 2016) 8.3 (Q2 2017) Beyond 8.3 (2017+)
New REST API capabilities
Waterwheel initial release
New REST API capabilities
JSON API module
GraphQL module?
Entity graph iterator?

New REST API capabilities

Wim Leers (Acquia) and Daniel Wehner (Chapter Three) have produced a comprehensive list of the top priorities for the REST module. We're introducing significant REST API advancements in Drupal 8.2 and 8.3 in order to improve the developer experience and extend the capabilities of the REST API. We've been focused on configuration entity support, simplified REST configuration, translation and file upload support, pagination, and last but not least, support for user login, logout and registration. All this work starts to address differences between core's REST module and various contributed modules like Services and RELAXed Web Services. More details are available in my previous blog post.

Many thanks to Wim Leers (Acquia), Daniel Wehner (Chapter Three), Ted Bowman (Acquia), Alex Pott (Chapter Three), and others for their work on Drupal core's REST modules. Though there is considerable momentum behind efforts in core, we could always benefit from new contributors. Please consider taking a look at the REST module issue queue to help!

Waterwheel initial release

As I mentioned in my previous post, there has been exciting work surrounding Waterwheel, an SDK for JavaScript developers building Drupal-backed applications. If you want to build decoupled applications using a JavaScript framework (e.g. Angular, Ember, React, etc.) that use Drupal as a content repository, stay tuned for Waterwheel's initial release later this year.

Waterwheel aims to facilitate the construction of JavaScript applications that communicate with Drupal. Waterwheel's JavaScript library allows JavaScript developers to work with Drupal without needing deep knowledge of how requests should be authenticated against Drupal, what request headers should be included, and how responses are molded into particular data structures.

The Waterwheel Drupal module adds a new endpoint to Drupal's REST API allowing Waterwheel to discover entity resources and their fields. In other words, Waterwheel intelligently discovers and seamlessly integrates with the content model defined on any particular Drupal 8 site.

A wider ecosystem around Waterwheel is starting to grow as well. Gabe Sullice (Aten Design Group), creator of the Entity Query API module, has contributed an integration of Waterwheel which opens the door to features such as sorts, conditions and ranges. The Waterwheel team welcomes early adopters as well as those working on other REST modules such as JSON API and RELAXed or using native HTTP clients in JavaScript frameworks to add their own integrations to the mix.

Waterwheel is the currently the work of Matt Grill (Acquia) and Preston So (Acquia), who are developing the JavaScript library, and Ted Bowman (Acquia), who is working on the Drupal module.

JSON API module

In conjunction with the ongoing efforts in core REST, parallel work is underway to build a JSON API module which embraces the JSON API specification. JSON API is a particular implementation of REST that provides conventions for resource relationships, collections, filters, pagination, and sorting, in addition to error handling and full test coverage. These conventions help developers build clients faster and encourages reuse of code.

Thanks to Mateu Aguiló Bosch, Ed Faulkner and Gabe Sullice (Aten Design Group), who are spearheading the JSON API module work. The module could be ready for production use by the end of this year and included as an experimental module in core by 8.3. Contributors to JSON API are meeting weekly to discuss progress moving forward.

Beyond 8.3: GraphQL and entity graph iterator

While these other milestones are either certain or in the works, there are other projects gathering steam. Chief among these is GraphQL, which is a query language I highlighted in my Barcelona keynote and allows for clients to tailor the responses they receive based on the structure of the requests they issue.

One of the primary outcomes of the New Orleans web services discussion was the importance of a unified approach to iterating Drupal's entity graph; both GraphQL and JSON API require such an "entity graph iterator". Though much of this is still speculative and needs greater refinement, eventually, such an "entity graph iterator" could enable other functionality such as editable API responses (e.g. aliases for custom field names and timestamp formatters) and a unified versioning strategy for web services. However, more help is needed to keep making progress, and in absence of additional contributors, we do not believe this will land in Drupal until after 8.3.

Thanks to Sebastian Siemssen, who has been leading the effort around this work, which is currently available on GitHub.

Validating our work and getting involved

In order to validate all of the progress we've made, we need developers everywhere to test and experiment with what we're producing. This means stretching the limits of our core REST offerings, trying out JSON API for your own Drupal-backed applications, reporting issues and bugs as you encounter them, and participating in the discussions surrounding this exciting vision. Together, we can build towards a first-class API-first Drupal.

Special thanks to Preston So for contributions to this blog post and to Wim Leers for feedback during its writing.

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Dries Buytaert is the original creator and project lead of Drupal and the co-founder and CTO of Acquia. He writes about Drupal, startups, business, photography and building the world we want to exist in.

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