Introducing Drupal Starshot: A New Version of Drupal CMS

Drupal Starshot blog cover image with OST Odi by the logo on a starfield

For 20 plus years, Drupal has been the content management system of choice for some of the world’s largest and most successful websites.  With that kind of power came complexity that caused some site builders to choose a different platform for small to medium (and even larger) websites.  Dries (the founder of Drupal) wants to change that.

First introduced in 2017, Dries sees the concept of the Ambitious Site Builder is driving Drupal’s future growth.  While not abandoning the senior developers who build Drupal core and contributed modules and create some of the most complex websites, Drupal hopes to attract new interest by making it easier to create compelling websites without knowing any code at all.

I’ve introduced around 50,000 people to Drupal over the past 13 years and one of the most vocal frustrations with the CMS revolves around the complexity of the system overall and the inability for non-technical people to create landing pages (Drupal is probably the easiest CMS to use as a content editor when it’s set up correctly).  In the Site Building classes I teach, the section on Layout Builder generates the most interest, and the biggest let down for Marketers (until I demonstrate what it can do when it’s fully configured – https://drupalhelps.com).

This leads us to the 2024 keynote at DrupalCon Portland. Dries introduced Drupal Starshot https://www.drupal.org/starshot. (You can watch the relevant parts of the keynote here: https://youtu.be/I95hSyocMlg?t=2905).

Drupal Starshot is the up-to-date iteration of Drupal Gardens (circa 2010).  It uses the newest features in Drupal (Recipies, Project Browser, Single Directory Components) and promises a “Launch” button instead of a tedious installation process.

Key Takeaways from the Keynote

  1. The focus of Drupal is on the Ambitious Site Builder. 

    This comes as no surprise since Dries has mentioned it in every keynote for several years now.  The graphic shows the “top problems” for this group. (all images from DrupalCon Portland 2024 Keynote)

    5 problems drupal faces

    As I’ve taught Drupal beginners over the years, I would agree with these.  People struggle with the complexity of Drupal, knowing how to best configure the CMS and creating great landing pages.
  1. Drupal Starshot is the future of Drupal’s marketing and branding efforts.  

    Drupal Starshot (Drupal CMS) is not a distribution of Drupal (thankfully).  It’s Drupal core and Contributed modules that are added via a set of recipes that can be installed and uninstalled as needed.  According to Dries (and the size of the boxes in the image below) the emphasis will be on installing the full Drupal CMS for the best experience instead of configuring Drupal Core on your own.

    Given the emphasis from Dries and the proposed timeline (8 months – not 8 years), I think this is a certainty.

    Drupal CMS
  1. Using Recipes, Starshot will include the modules you likely install on every Drupal site already.

    Linkit, Layout Builder (being rebranded as Experience Builder), Metatags, Gin Admin theme, new Navigation module, Coffee, Moderation, Scheduling, Pathauto, and Webforms (none of this is final).  I have long been a proponent of having a standard installation of Drupal that is not a distribution, so this is really great news in my mind.

    Spinning up a site will entail clicking on the features you want (like a Blog, Event Management etc.), and the requisite Core and Contributed modules will be installed and configured for you, ready to use.

    Starshot wireframe
    (not the final version of the interface)
  1. The Starshot Mission Statement demonstrates the priority of the new Site Builder experience.

    Mission Statement

  2. The future of Layout Builder is more clear.

    Layout Builder will be re-branded as “Experience Builder”.  According to Dries: “the best approach is to expand the Layout Builder while also incorporating the best elements of Paragraphs” in order to integrate basic theming capabilities, enabling users to style their pages effortlessly without having to edit Twig files.”
    (https://dri.es/evolving-drupal-layout-builder-to-an-experience-builder).

    Experience Builder

  3. I’m not sure Agencies will care.

    In his keynote, Dries emphasized that agencies should care because this is how people will come into the ecosystem, which will lead to much larger Drupal experiences that agencies will create (NBC being the prime example).

    good for business

    According to Dries, the “consumerization” of enterprise software will drive this approach.  “Focusing on the Ambitious Site Builder and making Drupal easier to use out-of-the-box is good for everyone and I think is good for our ecosystem – all of our agencies in the room”.

    While in principle I would agree, however, Drupal will always be a complex tool that requires robust site-building skills and/or development for all but the simplest of sites.  I would liken Startshot to someone being given a Ferrari, but if they don’t know how to drive, they’ll still need to take some lessons and have a mechanic who will add features and service the car.  

    In that sense, Drupal Starshot will definitely open the Drupal experience to many new people, just like Drupal Gardens did back in 2010 but I don’t see agencies emphasizing it in any meaningful way.
  1. Training people in Drupal will probably change.

    Since I’m primarily a Drupal trainer this is of interest to me.  I think it’s too early in the process to determine how Drupal Site Builder training will be impacted by Starshot.  However, I can see the scenario where we use Starshot and pull it apart to see how a Drupal site can be built.  This, of course, is dependent on the timely completion of a lot of some Starshot features:
    1. The enhanced builder experience needs to really work (75% certain).
    2. Recipes need to become standardized (95% certain).
    3. The success of the Project Browser initiative (100% certain).
    4. Adoption by the agencies for whom I do training (currently three).

Conclusion

Early in 2024, I built my own installation of Drupal that encompasses much of what Starshot is promising (https://drupalhelps.com).  I’ve used it to very quickly spin up sites with a set of features that are not in a distribution (all Core and Contributed modules with zero additional code).  It launches on Gitpod.io (free) using DDev (free) and can be moved to any server very easily (also free).  I’m using it to move quite a number of sites into Drupal from other CMS’s and it’s saving literally days worth of time on each site.

While Starshot will of course be far more polished and future-proof, I’ve been able to validate the concept with my “StarterSite” and can’t wait for Starshot.


Learn how you can get involved at https://www.drupal.org/starshot.

Author

  • Rod Martin

    Rod holds two masters degrees and has been training people how to do "things" for over 25 years. Originally from Australia, he grew up in Canada and now resides just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. He has worked in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds, in small companies and large corporations. His extensive open source experience includes WordPress, Joomla and Drupal and he really knows how to help you get the most out of the system you chose. Rod plays ice hockey a couple of times a week and rides his Goldwing motorcycle pretty much everywhere he can.

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kathryn-carruthers
7 days ago

While Dries was talking, I was thinking of your presentation at Florida Drupalcamp (I watched it and built a site based on it, and forwarded it to a couple of other people who were stuck when trying to build relatively simple Drupal sites).

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