What the History of Photography Teaches the Cloud

The founder of open-source Drupal content management system details how the 100-year evolution of photography can inform open-source development and the upcoming Drupal 8 release.

Dries Buytaert

It took more than 100 years of evolution for the modern photography industry to reach its current state, and there are lessons from that century that apply to the modern world of cloud and Web development too. That's the message delivered by Dries Buytaert, founder of the open-source Drupal content management system (CMS), during his keynote address at the Drupalcon conference June 3 in Austin, Texas.

Drupal is one of the most widely deployed content management systems on the planet and counts big-name deployments including WhiteHouse.gov among its users. Buytaert (pictured) is also the CTO of Acquia, a company he helped to create that delivers commercial support and solutions based on Drupal. Acquia closed a $50 million funding round on May 27, bringing total funding to date up to $118.6 million.

Buytaert noted that the first camera in history over 100 years ago was big, bulky and very difficult to use, with a complex process to actually take a picture. Within a few short years of the first camera, the Kodak company came out with a camera that made the technology easier to use.

"They [Kodak] had this notion that, 'You press the button and we do the rest,'" Buytaert said. "It encapsulates how they simplified photography."

Over the course of 100 years, Buytaert explained, photography and cameras were simplified drastically in a number of phases. The introduction of 35mm photography provided a form of standardization to the industry that also made things simpler for users.

"The industry standardized on a common format and, as a result, there was a whole ecosystem born of different cameras and tools to project photos," Buytaert said.

Camera users of the 20th century needed to load, process and develop film, adding layers of complexity for users—until the introduction of the Polaroid in the 1970s. Polaroid provided users with instant photographs, further simplifying the process of photography.

The introduction of digital cameras in the late 1990s went a step further by removing the need for film. And with the introduction of the Apple iPhone in 2007 and other smartphones, photography was once again optimized, by enabling users to easily share their photos.

"If you look at the history of the camera, you see that every single iteration of the camera essentially replaced one or more steps," Buytaert said. "Over more than 100 years, we were able to simplify this huge process."

Buytaert emphasized that there is relevance in how modern photography and cameras have evolved to the modern world of cloud and his own Drupal content management system. In looking back at the evolution of photography, it was ease of use that was the driving force for change. However, while ease of use decreased for the end user, the complexity under the hood actually increased, he noted.

When it comes to the Web, Buytaert sees a similar evolution of usability and functionality taking place.

"First, we needed to invent HTML and the Web browser, and that gave birth to the static Web," Buytaert said.

The initial era of the static Web was followed by the era of the dynamic Web, fueled in part by technologies like PHP, MySQL, Apache and Linux that enabled more dynamic content. The Drupal CMS, which was first released in 2001, is a product of the dynamic Web revolution and has helped to enable what Buytaert refers to as the "assembled" Web.

In the assembled Web, there are modules, themes and Web services all packaged together in a technology platform that is easier to deploy and use than trying to assemble the constituent components individually.

In Buytaert's view, the next step in the evolution of the Internet is the "experience" Web—providing a platform that is more tailored to user experiences. That's the direction he's pointing Drupal toward for release 8 of the CMS, which is in development.

While it took 100 years of evolution for the camera to reach its current state, the path to Drupal 8, isn't likely as long. Buytaert has been talking about Drupal 8 since 2011, which is when Drupal 7 was officially released. The basic premise is that it will provide a more semantic and responsive platform for Web content and enable the experience Web. Drupal 8 is still in active development, and Buytaert noted that, as of June 2, there are still 15 beta blockers in the code preventing a beta release. His expectation is that Drupal 8 should be generally available by the middle of 2015.

In Buytaert's view, the promise of Drupal 8 is that it is an opportunity to rethink what the experience of things online should be and how Drupal can help accomplish that.

"As we've shown with the camera, it's all about simplifying the experience over time," Buytaert said. "Under the hood, things might get more complex, but ultimately we need to think about the experience for the end user."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.