Five members of the Sandstorm Drupal web agency are gathered at their booth at Drupalcon. The signage says, “UX design for purpose-driven brands. Creatively led, technology-fueled digital brand experiences.” They are smiling at the camera.

Our team just returned from DrupalCon 2024 in Portland, and it was as energizing as ever, especially from a Drupal web agency perspective. I am always reminded that the Drupal open source community really aligns with our core value of the “Warrior Spirit.” We’re all in this together, pushing ourselves and each other to be better.

With juicy educational sessions on topics ranging from open source AI, atomic content, design systems and frameworks, accessibility and UX, personalization, and much more, here are some of the biggest takeaways:

1. Drupal Starshot: Reducing the Barrier to Entry

In the traditional opening DriesNote, they introduced an initiative to develop a new version of Drupal called Drupal Starshot, an easier-to-use version of Drupal regardless if you are working with a Drupal web agency. This version will come bundled with the most popular/commonly used contributed modules and be available to install via the browser (rather than just command line). We'll be sure to let you know when it launches!

Traditional Drupal Core will still be available and likely the preferred route for many developers, but this option would make Drupal more accessible and invite a larger audience to our community. The Starshot name is a reference to Kennedy’s “Moonshot” and a recognition that 23 years in, we need to and will do bold things to maintain Drupal’s prominence and relevance.

Sandstorm's VP of Engineering, John Brooks, also got to spend time with Dries Buytaert, the inventor of Drupal. They quickly bonded over a shared passion and history of open-source software development, and Sandstorm pledged to aid Starshot by helping improve Drupal’s emerging design system integration.

2. Why Open Source Must Win the AI Battle

There were, of course, many sessions on artificial intelligence. Alex Salkever gave the keynote and made the case for why it matters if AI is controlled by open source rather than closed models. He argued that in order to innovate quickly and really understand the information AI is generating and whether or not it can be trusted, we need to have transparency for not just the software, but the:

  • Data it’s trained on (is it Creative Commons, proprietary, etc)
  • Tuning, weights assigned, and checkpoints
  • The compute stack

3. Why Open Source Solutions Are Critical for Nonprofits

Sandstorm participated in and sponsored the Nonprofit Summit, sharing our experiences as an accessibility-certified Drupal web agency working with a global nonprofit on transforming the UX design, taxonomy and search experience.

From a community perspective, one of the key areas of reflection was the importance of nonprofits using open source solutions. Tim Lehnen, CTO at the Drupal Association, used the example of many smaller nonprofits moving to Facebook many years ago. Once Facebook updated its feed algorithm, they suddenly lost access to the audiences they had worked so hard to cultivate. No single company should hold the keys to your data or the way you fulfill your mission.

4. A Growing Buzz for ECA (Event - Condition - Action)

One of my favorite parts of DrupalCon is getting to see which contributed modules are rising to the surface. This year, there were several sessions and discussions on ECA (Event - Condition - Action). It's the next iteration of what was Rules in Drupal 7. It’s basically a way for site administrators to create automation using a graphical interface that looks like a flow chart. I am excited about the transparency and ease of use this can provide not only us as a Drupal web agency, but for our clients as well.

5. Rescue Ladders for Drupal 7 Sites

Finally, with the real end of life for Drupal 7 approaching in January 2025, the community is hard at work to help out the sites that haven’t yet made the leap. There’s Retrofit, which I like to think of as a bit of scaffolding to help a D7 site put on D10 clothes. There is the somewhat controversial, forked version of Drupal called Backdrop CMS that will work for certain sites with more limited feature sets. And there are services like HeroDevs which provide paid access to security updates for Drupal 7 core and a limited set of contributed modules.

DrupalCon Always Continues to Deliver

Our team comes away from the event inspired, energized and educated, ready to bring fresh ideas and innovation on Drupal and web development to our clients. We’re also grateful to make connections with new organizations and deepen our relationships with existing partners while identifying new solutions our web agency can offer in our continued collaboration with our clients.

We also learned that the next North American DrupalCon will be in Atlanta in March 2025 (mark your calendars!) And if you’re thirsty for more, check out the full list of DrupalCon 2024 Portland recordings and the DriesNote, including the video and slides from his presentation.

Emily Kodner is a light skinned female with blonde shoulder length hair smiling at the camera wearing a read sweater
Emily Kodner
Senior Director of Client Delivery

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