Drupal Starshot: Delivering on a promise to Ambitious Site Builders

Drupal Starshot Logo

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - President John F. Kennedy

The above quote summarizes the theme of this years DrupalCon Portland Driesnote perfectly. Not in the sense that we are going to build Drupal to go to the moon, even though at one point it did power NASA.gov. In the sense that bringing Drupal to the next level won't be easy, but it is a necessity to spur innovation and community growth.  

Drupal is for Ambitious Site Builders

As a long-time Drupaler, I was extremely excited by the shift of Drupal's vision in 2022 to being for "Ambitious Site Builders". The idea of Drupal some day competing against site builders like Squarespace was (and still is) where I thought we needed to be. Initially, I was skeptical about the new Starshot initiative announced during this years Driesnote. Like many, I was worried about what another version of Drupal might mean for our community and if it would fulfill the promise made to those ambitious site builders like me.


Initial Skepticism

When Dries introduced Starshot, my first thought was a mix of, "Oh No!" and "Here we go again." It seemed to me that Starshot was going to divide the community and wouldn't venture far enough into the no-code territory other site building tools / platforms have thrived in. As someone who isn’t a coding ninja, I often feel alienated by Drupal’s developer-focused approach. In the past usability for the Ambitious Site Builder—someone who simply wants an easy way to build a website—seemed overlooked. We’ve seen many potential new users flock to Squarespace and Wix because of their simplicity and user-friendly interfaces. With Slides like the below and wording talking about Starshot as a version of Drupal  I feared that it would split the community and become another developer-centric tool that the average person couldn't use easily. 

No code / low code vision slide from Driesnote

Seeing the above slide made me feel that Starshot would still require coding knowledge and that is a non-starter to compete in the site building space as it was intended. I felt it had to shift to the No Code / Low Code area to be competitive and help to grow the community.

By the end of the Driesnote I was left with more questions than answers and some concerns about the future of Drupal. 

A Change in Perspective

I ventured from the Driesnote in search of more information and other points of view. I engaged in conversations with other community members at DrupalCon, Local Meetups, and on my podcast (Talking Drupal #452 - Starshot & Experience Builder). As I talked to more people, my perspective began to shift. It became clear that Starshot wasn’t just another version of Drupal; it was a transformative initiative poised to enhance Drupal as a whole significantly.

To start Starshot will be built on Drupal Core, meaning many of its features are either derived from or integrated into the core system. It would not be a separate "version" of Drupal, it would be a layer on top of Drupal Core. This ensures stability, reliability, and seamless updates. Some standout features include:

  • Recipes: Pre-configured solutions for common use cases, simplifying setup and customization.
  • Experience Builder / Layout Builder: Tools designed to make building and designing pages more intuitive, key for those Ambitious Site Builders.
  • Project Browser: An easy way to discover and install modules, themes, and (some day) Recipes.
  • Automatic Updates: An easy way to keep your Drupal site up to date.

Many of these features are already included in Drupal core to help achieve Starshot greatness. So it's clear Starshot won't be a different version of Drupal. Going forward framing Starshot as a Recipe instead of a version is a must. Making this change in verbiage would help folks better understand what Starshot is. It also allows for us to educate people on what Recipes are, this can increase adoption. 

The last part to understand here is that Starshot will attempt to be no/low code with Experience Builder. In talking with Lauri Eskola he explained the goal for Experience builder to start is to allow people to enter a small amount of code to better help theme your Drupal site directly from the CMS. In my mind this is the missing piece for the Ambitous site builder. 

Having these conversation and hearing all the great ideas for Starshot shifted my thinking. They left me feeling re-energized in Drupal and excited for the future.  

But What about that Launch button?

I left DrupalCon very excited about one aspect of the Driesnote in particular, the Launch button!

Launch Button Slide with Arrow

Imagine if the Drupal community could rally behind Starshot and that lead to a Platform as a Service (PaaS) or a one-click install option for Drupal. This could be a game-changer, attracting new members who are currently opting for more straightforward platforms like Squarespace. For years, Drupal has lost market share to systems like Wix and Squarespace due to their ease of use. Starshot could be the catalyst to potentially reverse this trend by serving as an accessible entry point for hobbyists, non-profit organizations, and corporate users alike.

Starshot could revitalize Drupal’s hobbyist roots while continuing to serve the corporate sector. It provides an easy starting point for newcomers who can then choose to stick with Starshot or expand their site’s capabilities as their needs grow. This flexibility showcases Drupal’s power and could help reinvigorate our community.

Spur Community Growth

Picture this: new Starshot users start attending local meetups, camps, and eventually DrupalCons. This influx of fresh faces and ideas would bolster our events ecosystem, which has seen some decline in recent years. Increased participation would spur innovation, bringing new ideas and energy into the Drupal community.

Starshot has the potential to grow our community by attracting users from other platforms. Currently the Squarespace Community on Facebook has over 20k members, that's only one example. By making Drupal more accessible and user-friendly, we can expand our reach and inspire a new generation of Drupal enthusiasts.

Onward and Upward

At this point in time it feels to this long time Drupal Lover that Starshot could deliver on the promise made to support Ambitious Site Builders. Embracing Starshot means embracing a future where Drupal is more accessible, user-friendly, and innovative. Let’s come together as a community to support this initiative and ensure that Drupal remains a powerful, versatile platform for everyone.

By sharing our experiences and ideas, we can help shape the future of Drupal. Starshot isn’t just about new features; it’s about building a community that welcomes everyone, from seasoned developers to complete beginners. Let’s make this vision a reality and usher in a new era for Drupal.

Note: ChatGPT was used to assist in the writing of this article. Its contents have been vetted by me and the thoughts, statements, facts and figures within are my own. Thanks for reading!