The viability of open source ecommerce platforms seems limited given the rise of SaaS providers like Shopify and many others. Not like that, says Ryan Szrama. He is the founder of Drupal Commerce. He wrote the code in 2005 as a supplement to the open source content management system Drupal.
“All of a sudden, I was skyrocketed to a collaborative development with a global reach and community,” said Szrama. “I got addicted. That’s how I wanted to work and develop my software. “
Szrama remains focused on Drupal. His company Centarro develops Drupal-based e-commerce websites as well as custom apps and plugins. He is a board member of the nonprofit Drupal Association, which controls the platform’s infrastructure and facilitates its development.
He and I spoke recently. We discussed Drupal, “Software Freedom”, Centarro and more. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The following transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: You are the founder of Drupal Commerce.
Ryan Szrama: Yes. Drupal was introduced in 2001. Drupal, Joomla and WordPress – we are the original three major open source platforms. Drupal Commerce came a few years later.
Band wood: Tell us about the advantages of open source software.
Szrama: Most of the people on the internet use open source software and don’t realize it. For example, Google Chrome and Android are open source projects. End users around the world benefit from the thousands of developers – many in their spare time, some company sponsored – working together to create these projects and make them more robust and feature-rich.
When you think of Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, it’s the same story. That’s how I came to Drupal. In 2005, my employer used osCommerce, an early leader in open source e-commerce, to sell restaurant equipment online. My boss said, “I want you to use Drupal to make a marketing website for us.” I had to see what Drupal was. But we downloaded the software and started helping, adding functionality and getting it to do what we wanted.
That eventually led us to build an e-commerce platform in Drupal. This was the good era of the internet where a person who hurled code at night and on weekends could achieve something that would stand the test of time. It’s still possible today, but back then it was the Wild West.
All of a sudden, I was put into a collaborative development with a global reach and community. I got hooked. That’s how I wanted to work and develop my software – in collaboration with a global community.
Band wood: I downloaded Drupal around 2008 and experimented. What’s wrong with the platform now?
Szrama: That was the Drupal 6 era. Drupal 7 applied the concept of content such as a blog post or website to products in an e-commerce catalog.
And then we transferred everything to Drupal 8, which was a total rebuild. Previously, Drupal was largely module-based. There was my trading project as well as a CRM and an ERP. Separate ecosystems.
With Drupal 8, all content became top-notch citizens, so to speak. Drupal 8 is an object-oriented application based on an open source software framework called Symfony. Drupal 8 was a massive re-architecture.
The innovation push in today’s Drupal community concerns headless or decoupled CMS development. Drupal is now more in the background – a general data repository for websites, products, orders, address books, payment methods, the entire nine meters.
So we have two options for using Drupal: as a full stack for the front end or as headless if Drupal is only the back end.
Band wood: Are there any plugins for Drupal Commerce?
Szrama: Yes. My company, Centarro, has dozens or more plugins that extend Drupal and Drupal Commerce. You just download them as needed. You can help if you want. Certainly some people don’t have the development capacity or the time to do it. So they’ll pay us to work on the app on their behalf.
However, my company’s contracts specifically state that any improvements someone pays for will contribute to the open source project. Once the code is paid for, it becomes part of the general library of functions that anyone can use.
Band wood: Which companies are best for Drupal Commerce?
Szrama: People tell me, “I just want a business. I’m starting and trying to sell a widget. “And I ask,” Have you thought about Shopify? ” I want you to rule that out first.
Drupal Commerce is best for businesses with content-intensive multimedia stores and robust content workflows and controls, possibly with third-party digital asset management tools or content repositories. These type of businesses are not well served by your typical SaaS platform or even an ecommerce centric open source project like Magento.
For them, Drupal is the differentiator as a content management system. Then they add commerce, our range of functions. Once they open up the flexibility, brands find it hard to stick with what’s coming out of the SaaS box.
Drupal also appeals to companies that require a combination of functions, e.g. B. multilingual, cross-domain, cross-currency, cross-checkout, B2B plus B2C.
Band wood: What is the investment to use Drupal Commerce? I realize that every business is different. Shopify Plus costs around $ 2,000 per month to get started. And then it scales based on sales.
Szrama: Every business is different, as you say. The majority of our work consists of companies with in-house developers who know the software and make $ 70,000 to $ 120,000 a year working in-house.
In the high-end space, we partner with companies that spend a quarter of a million dollars a year to improve and expand the capabilities of their e-commerce platform.
Band wood: I love the open source culture. What is the vision for Drupal in the next five, ten years?
Szrama: Drupal has a mature community and governance system. It’s by no means perfect, but in many ways a model for other open source projects. A non-profit organization called the Drupal Association controls the infrastructure of the project, but not the software itself. I’m on the board of directors of the Drupal Association.
The association has just produced a digital conference called DrupalCon Global. The association therefore facilitates the continuous development and cooperation of this huge community.
On the other hand, you have Dries Buytaert who created Drupal. He is still active today as a project manager. In a way, he’s Drupal’s Matt Mullenweg. Where Matt is the creator and leader of WordPress, Dries is the creator and leader of Drupal.
However, it is very different. Their leadership and management styles are very different. Dries also runs a company called Aquia, which invests heavily in Drupal. But Acquia doesn’t control Drupal in the same way that Automattic (Matt’s company) controls WordPress and its community. And Dries has delegated an enormous amount of authority to others.
Dries makes far fewer software decisions today than it did 10 years ago. His influence is more strategic and at a high level.
Drupal is a rare open source project that is not controlled by any company. So we have to look at things like how those involved in the project stay in business. Should the association play an active role in helping people raise money or get paid for their work? Or how do we create incentives for companies that use the software and then sell it for huge sums of money? How do we convert these people into giving back?
The club thinks about a lot of these things. I want contributors to be financially successful. We considered paying an annual fee to contributors who would then make their software available to everyone.
Band wood: I can see that Drupal is a good fit with nontraditional companies like the marijuana and arms industries. With open source, these companies could control the code. They may need to move the host.
Szrama: Law. Most online businesses cannot take the code with them. One of my partner agencies, Acramedia, is applying Drupal and Drupal Commerce to the weed industry in Canada. Healthcare companies must ensure privacy rights and compliance with HIPAA guidelines. These types of companies have more to worry about software freedom than they realize.
Band wood: Where can people find out more about you and keep in touch?
Szrama: I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn. My development company is Centarro.io. Our work is on Drupal.org. We keep people informed about our projects and our roadmap on the Centarro website and newsletter. We also maintain a Slack channel on Drupal Slack called Commerce.