Drupalcon is dead. Long live Drupalcon?


With Drupalcon Copenhagen now behind us and Drupalcon Chicago approaching, I've found myself thinking about what Drupalcon is and how it's changing.

My first Drupalcon was in Barcelona, I was lucky enough to get to tag along with the guys from Bryght. I had an absolutely amazing time and met dozens of people, many of whom are now quite close friends. To top it off I also met my now fiancee and a future boss (no longer my boss, but still a good friend).

Since then, the twice yearly Drupalcons have consistently been highlights in my year. It's often the only time I get to see many of my friends in person.

Drupalcon is not a conference. At least not in the traditional sense. It's a time where some of the smartest people in the community get together, work on code, figure out problems, and teach each other what they know. It differs from a traditional conference in that there are no paid speakers and it doesn't come with a $2000+ price tag. In addition almost everyone attending is also a participant, whether they're there to hack code, present, contribute to BoF's, etc., everyone at Drupalcon makes it what it is.

Or I should say Drupalcon was that.

Since the first Drupalcon in Antwerp (correct me if I'm wrong), the number of people in attendance has almost consistently doubled every time. With 3000+ people at DCSF and a planned 4000+ attending Drupalcon Chicago, maintaining the personal feel that Drupalcons have traditionally had is simply no longer sustainable and I don't believe possible.

A few of the signs that lead me to believe this are:
* One of the stated goals of DC Chicago in the opening keynote at Copenhagen was to make it the "biggest" Drupalcon ever. I recall in Barcelona the goal was "Best Drupalcon Ever!". Biggest is still a great goal, but it doesn't say anything of the quality of the con, nor if people will enjoy it or not.

* At the end of each conference, traditionally the final keynote includes a slideshow of flickr photos from the conference. This to me is a reminder that the conference was about the attendees. It's an important reminder that the conference isn't so much about the sessions and learning, as it is about the experience of having everyone there in one place at one time. This was absent from this years closing keynote. In fact, this years closing keynote seemed more like the season finale of a reality TV show, than the closing keynote of a Drupalcon.

* DC Chicago will select a set of more "well known" speakers prior to opening up the session proposals and voting to the public. While this is actually quite beneficial to people who need to convince their companies to let them attend it is a big change (possibly the biggest in my eyes) to the way Drupalcons are traditionally a bit more open for anyone in the community to present their ideas. I see this ultimately heading down the road of having the conference organizers select all the speakers, and possibly even moving to the paid speaker and expensive conference price tag model. When the vast majority of the attendees shifts from Drupal contributors to people trying to learn what Drupal is and how it can fit into their company, this is really only natural.

* Lastly, Drupalcons are now being planned multiple years in advance. This is quite different from the planning that normally occurs one Drupalcon in advance.

None of these changes are necessarily bad things, they're just a sign that times are changing.

For me personally, I think Drupalcon will soon no longer be something I look forward to and anticipate, but instead something I go to out of obligation for the work I do.

This doesn't mean I'm not still super excited about the community and new things that are happening in Drupal, but instead that it's time to redirect my energy elsewhere. I think the stuff I'm really gonna be excited about in the future will be the local Drupal camps, and things like the upcoming PNW Drupal Summit (which unfortunately I'll be missing :( ). Also, I think there will be some very cool community stuff happening in new areas with Drupalcon like conferences happening in Asia, South America, and Africa.

The most important aspect of Drupal is the community. It's sad to think that Drupalcons are leaving that behind a bit, but I also don't think there's any other way it can go.

With that said, I had an amazing time in Copenhagen. There were a few issues (as there always are) but overall the conference organizers did a great job putting it together and I thought the sessions had a very good balance from intro to advanced. And I'm definitely looking forward to seeing everyone in Chicago :).

Peanut Gallery

The closing session was truly cringeworthy


The drupalradar folks did a yeoman job of recording stuff at the conference, but in my opinion, they should stay behind the camera.

As I've said to lots of folks directly after the closing session, I found their moderation embarrassing to the drupal community present, and to anyone watching remotely. They were transparently shilling for sponsors, standing up and talking about nothing, loudly putting in filler where we were just trying to listen to the people on stage, and generally turning to whole event into a slightly skewed reality TV show.

The kitten killers, and the hardworking CPH team were the only redeeming features of a strained and disenchanting closing session. For the sake of the project, I sincerely hope that no one was watching the much hyped live feed. It has to be seen to be believe how bad it was, but if you weren't put through it, don't bother watching it.

Hey, they were just trying to help, but I found it quite damaging to the community spirit of the conference. I saw several prominent developers stagger out of the session as though someone had just kicked their puppies.

You can't keep stuff like this from happening from time to time except by having a intuitive sense for the community, but let's learn something from this one.

Par for the course?

IIRC the closing session has generally been a clap-fest for the people who made the conference happen. Recognition is given to all the volunteers, and also to the sponsors. I thought it was actually nice to have someone who was an experienced public speaker MC the whole thing, and I thought the talk-show format was meant in jest/humor.

future of DrupalCons

Has anyone suggesting branching into two kinds of DrupalCons? One big introductory one for newcomers, and then one smaller one for developers/themers/contributors that would more closely resemble DrupalCons past? I thought SF was already too large to enjoy as much as DrupalCons past.

I couldn't agree more about


I couldn't agree more about the "cringe worthy" closing keynote. I felt that it made Drupal look like it had "jumped the shark" a bit. It became no longer about the community and about the presenters on the stage. We the community are what make Drupal what it is. Frankly it kinda makes me wonder if Drupalcons are still worth going to or if it would be better to just stick with making the local community better and keeping on d.o.

DC Chicago speakers


As the co-organizer of speakers for Drupalcon Chicago, I'd like to address the comments related to that. I have been vocally critical of the speaker selection process at the past several Drupalcons and wanted to make an effort to improve this process for Drupalcon Chicago.

One of the bigger issues in past Drupalcons has been the voting process, especially when you look at the number of submissions that come in. Drupalcon SF had, I believe, over 300 session submissions. It is extremely difficult, if you are a newcomer to the community, to get your session to stand out in this kind of crowd, especially when you are competing with the rockstars of the community who, lets be honest, are going to get chosen anyways. By recruiting these speakers in advance we actually level the playing field quite a bit for other speakers to make their voices heard and get their sessions seen.

Another reason to recruit speakers in advance is to try and broaden the spectrum of topics. We can reach out to someone who might not normally speak and say 'Hey we love what you're doing with would you like to speak on the UX/business/community/etc track?' While I have no illusions that we will have as many sessions in these tracks as in the developer/site builder tracks, we wanted to make a real effort towards increasing the diversity both of topics and presenters, and reaching out to strong speakers allows us to do this.

I think these are enormously positive moves for the conference, and while they are big shift away from the way past Drupalcons are done, I think people will very much appreciate the conference that results in addition to the other plans we have like getting the speakers announced much earlier (for both speaker and attendee planning) as well as increased transparency of the selection process.

More input? Bring it on! We'd love to hear it.

I agree. But not only

I agree.

But not only Drupalcon is changing, Drupal is changing too. D7, if it ever arrives, is a much larger beast, targeted to the enterprise. The strategies of the Community members will have to change accordingly.

The individual Drupaler who could make an impact in the community and at the Cons may be collateral damage to this development. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it changes the nature of the game. And it is certainly going to change the spirit of the community.

As big, but local

As Drupalcons grow biiig, local events grow up "underneath", as a second layer. You've mentioned Drupalcon Barcelona. The venue that was used for the Barcelona Drupalcon just filled in this past spring for the Barcelona Drupalcamp (huuuu!). http://2010.drupalcamp.es/ So local interest is growing as much as international was a few years back. In many cases, Drupalcamps take the place as the community organized, person-to-person meetups. In the closing keynote at Copenhagen, there were four big international European events announced for businesses, designers, developers and newcomers.

While this "second tier" of events is thriving, Drupalcons are in many ways what you make out of it. I've used the time to talk to people, get introduced to faces I've seen before at multiple events but never approached, attend BoFs, get issues fixed, etc. I think Drupalcons still provide space for these things, its up to you to use its facilities that way. As long as there are people interested in this kind of approach attending the event, Drupalcons will provide services for them AFAIS.

There are already two


There are already two DrupalCons for different target groups, though unintentional - the North American conference has always been more geared towards those interested in learning about Drupal, in contrast to the European one which has attracted a crowd that's already doing Drupal. As a result, the European conference have been smaller.

As far as I can tell, the European conferences have maintained more of a community feel. Sadly I missed DrupalCon SF so I can only compare with DrupalCon DC. The DC conference was larger scale and more commercially focused compared to Paris and CPH.

It's nice that Drupal grows and to many of us whose business is tied to Drupal, its growth means our business can also grow. But growth should never be a goal in itself. It should be a means, a means of reach. Reach is where WP and Joomla beat Drupal totally. We have a long way to go when it comes to making Drupal accessible and usable to even more people.

Lay of the land, and choices

As a member of the Drupal Association board, I can say that the long lead times for planning DrupalCons is a result of the size of the events. You just cannot book sizable venues on short notice — and it can be more costly as well. Keeping the costs down has been a priority, and this is one way to do it.

Speaking only as an individual, I believe there may be benefit in splitting up what are DrupalCons into more community-focused events vs. more business expo events. But that's a whole new barrel of monkeys.

The thing is that, to some extent, each DrupalCon is a reinvention of the event. There's usually very little overlap between organizing teams. This means that DrupalCons also have an opportunity to create something new and fabulous, not just leave out cool things done before. (I also like closing session slideshows.)

DrupalCon Chicago is going to be something new again, with an emphasis on having the entire event and attendee lodging all in one big hotel. So it may be the biggest ever, but it also might be the most centralized ever. Imagine commuting to the 'con by elevator instead of subway!

As the worldwide community grows, I don't know how DrupalCons could remain small intimate affairs. Meanwhile DrupalCamps are growing, and area already bigger than the DrupalCons of just a few years ago. Maybe that's a better place for the community fix?

Thanks for the comments!

Scott Hadfield

Thanks for the comments everyone!!

I totally agree that the drupalradar people did a great job overall. And the MC at the end (not sure who he was) did his job very well :). It just wasn't my kind of a thing. And I totally LOVED the killer kittens drupal song. Made my day.

You make a very good point about reaching out to lesser known people in the community to ask for session proposals. I agree with you that trying to find them in advance is a great idea. But from my understanding (from what was said at the CPH opening keynote), the Chicago team will be looking for the more "well known" speakers in advance to make a list of who's presenting early on in the process allowing people to make an argument to their company to let them attend. I believe (and may be wrong) that ultimately this will go the route of abolishing the voting and submission components of the sessions altogether and simply have the conference organizer go out and find all the presenters. I can't imagine that deciding between hundreds of session proposals (one day thousands) is an easy task, nor is the dealing with the voting aspect of it.

That's amazing! It's hard for me to believe how big the camps are getting. Still very cool :). I think the community is definitely at a transition point from young to mature, and I've read a lot of tweets and blog posts from people bitching about the cph con. I personally think this is part of the natural growing pains but hopefully soon there will be events that people from all backgrounds and interests can attend. Right now a lot of people (myself included :) ) are still having trouble conceptually grasping the current changes.

Thanks for the comment! I agree with pretty much everything you've said :). Planning the cons further in advance also helps me personally plan my travel life ;-). In Chicago I probably won't be staying in the hotel as I can't afford it, but yeah, it will be interesting to see how it plays out being so centralized. In the European cons I prefer to see the city a bit more so having everything centralized would be far from ideal for me.

Mostly I think the thing that bugs me the most about how the cons are changing... the opening keynote from Dries had no lolcats slides ;).

Don’t jump to conclusions

“DC Chicago will select a set of more "well known" speakers prior to opening up the session proposals and voting to the public. … I see this ultimately heading down the road of having the conference organizers select all the speakers, and possibly even moving to the paid speaker and expensive conference price tag model.”

Actually, its just the opposite. The biggest problem with voting during past Drupalcons has been that people usually only vote on a handful of sessions and often for the well-known names; other people’s sessions literally don’t get any votes. So we see multiple sessions by the same person.

The idea for Chicago is to get the “big names that everyone votes for anyway” up on the schedule first, so that they are basically “out of the running” for the sessions that everyone will be voting on. With the big names gone, hopefully, the rest of the sessions will get voted on based on their content rather then personality. A diverse selection of presenters has always been one of my goals as a track chair.

selecting speakers

@JohnAlbin: That sounds promising. Another thing that would be really helpful though would be some way to screen the presentations. If we don't know the presenter (or his/her track record), then we can only vote according to whether the topic sounds interesting. Unfortunately, some presenters pick interesting topics but then give a half-baked presentation. Perhaps after voting is completed, presenters should privately give their presentation to the selection committee who could then assure than the presentation will be up to par?

Another problem I had sometimes at DrupalCon SF was that I found it hard to predict, based on session title and short description, what a session's "character" was going to be like. Would it provide lots of nuts and bolts solutions? Would it be give a more philosophical overview? Would there be much Q&A? Within tracks (developing, theming, designing, business, etc.) there could be a more standardized labeling system for each presentation (intro, int, adv and/or tutorial, overview, where are we headed?, town hall mtg, etc.

Finally, the schedule has usually placed one session from each track at the same time. This assumes that people primarily stick with one track or another. But it always looks like people jump from one to the other a lot. I think instead we should have one room for newbies, one for intermediate, and one for advanced, or something like that. Then one could hit all the in-depth adv sessions, instead of having to choose between 3 great sessions one hour and then being stuck the next hour with all (or no) sessions appropriate to one's level.


We've seen the same issue as well with not really knowing the level or intended audience of a session going in. As a presenter I see it from the other side as well. :-) It's a problem we do want to try and address better for Chicago but haven't decided yet how that will work. Suggestions welcome!

enforcing tracks

What I tried at track chair for the coders track in CPH was to press speakers hard to abide by the track description. We moved sessions where coding was not the primary focus to other tracks. Many sessions which were submitted in coding were vague and needed discussion with the submitter. Some turned out to be actual site building sessions with one or two slides of explaining the glue code they written. Well, that is not for the coder track. I think/hope we did a good job in identifying and moving sessions as needed.

This does not cover all the use cases obviously. Every track will have beginner and advanced sessions alike and identifying those properly in advance would indeed be useful.

Reaching out

I guess there's some confusion about what "reaching out" means as far as presenters go.

It's pretty much a given that if they attend, Eaton, Webchick, Gabor, me, Earl, and others of that ilk will present. Or rather, if they submit a session proposal they'll get picked up for something. There's really not much competition there; it's just a question of what they present. That means people will vote for those sessions (OMG I want to see what kind of lolcats Eaton does this time, etc.) and not pay much attention to new and lesser known presenters or topics.

By saying up front "OK, we know that webchick is going to present something on Drupal 7, let's just schedule that and be done with it" and "OK, we know we want to have an intro-to-Views session, who is good at that", that means there's less "heavy hitter" competition when we get to voting. That way newer presenters are not competing with "Developing for Views, by Larry Garfield" for session slots. That should, at least this is the intent, make it easier for newer presenters or unexpected ideas to get attention; by setting aside slots for the "rockstar presenters" we are also, in effect, setting aside slots for newer presenters or more radical ideas.

As for Chicago, the hotel rate we've managed to get is a substantial discount off of the normal price. If it's still too much for you, get roommates. The rooms are large enough. You're not going to want to miss the fun because you couldn't grab a taxi. :-)

Today's Camps are Yesterday's Cons

My first "DrupalCon" experience was in Vancouver 2006 at the Open Source CMS Summit. It was magical. It was inspiring. I got up at the end and jumped up and down in front of everyone to talk about all the great things I wanted to do for the community. That conference had a total of about 200 people, with at least 1/4 of them from other projects.

In truth, the two "main" conferences are a whole new animal. It's not just the size, but also the content. In the early days you had much less people presenting finished work (or instructing newcomers) and a lot more of people talking about what they were thinking about doing for Core, etc.

The good news is that the original feeling of the camp is alive and well at a number of Drupal Camps around the country. They're regional, so they don't necessarily draw all the traditional "Drupal Rockstars," but my experience going around to different camps last year was really amazingly positive.

Also, for anyone who misses the "let's get together and work on Drupal" perspective, you should definitely attend the Core Developer Summit before each of the conferences. That was honestly my favorite thing about SF, and my biggest regret of CPH was missing it there.

I do think there's room for a "national" or even "international" Drupal Camp, but don't wait on the Association to organize it! ;)

international camps in Europe

Many of the local European associations and enthusiastic contributors are working on more international events in Europe, watch groups.drupal.org and Drupal Planet for more information.

Just had a small request, why

butcher block countertops

Just had a small request, why is your content on the right side of the page, and not the left? It's pretty annoying, I suggest you change this please.

Drupalcon is not yet dead. I


Drupalcon is not yet dead. I always wanted to attend meetings although I don't have the authority.