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White Paper

Introducing Drutopia

Drutopia is an initiative within the Drupal project that prioritizes putting the best online tools into the hands of grassroots groups. By embracing the liberatory possibilities of free software and supporting people-centred economic models, Drutopia aims to revolutionize the way we work and cooperate.

Drutopia is at once an ethos of Drupal development and a fresh take on Drupal distributions for users to build upon, all based in a governance model that gives users a large role in the direction of the project.

Core values of the Drutopia initiative include:

  • Be inclusive regarding gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, age, religion, geography and class.
  • Commit to protection of personal information and privacy and freedom from surveillance.
  • Value collaboration and cooperation above competition.
  • Prioritize human needs over private profit.
  • Foster non-hierarchical structures and collective decision-making.

Drutopia focuses on shared solutions. Drupal excels at providing the tools to develop and distribute specialized website platforms that can be freely shared, reused, and adapted. Of the three most-used free software content management systems (CMSs) – WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal – only Drupal has the built-in ability to package and share highly developed distributions.

A Drupal distribution is an “out-of-the-box” install of Drupal designed to meet the specific needs of your website. Distributions are essential in attracting and meeting the needs of groups that want to support the free software movement but don't have the technical know-how or resources to create a site from scratch. For developers, too, distributions hold a lot of potential because they do the heavy lifting of initial setup, allowing developers and site builders to bypass many hours of unnecessary effort. Drupal distributions so far have been held back by a series of factors that Drutopia aims to address.

Drutopia is about returning to Drupal’s roots in free software and progressive social change. Since its founding years, the Drupal project has both reflected and contributed to the democratic potential of the internet: to empower citizens to freely collaborate and organize outside the control of governments and corporate media. Long before it powered Fortune 500 sites and, Drupal was a tool of choice for small, grassroots, change-oriented groups. In fact, Drupal’s first rise to prominence was not as a tool for customized “enterprise” sites but as the basis for a popular organizing platform—Deanspace and its later incarnation, CivicSpace.

This initiative aims to reclaim Drupal for the communities and groups that have always been its core users and adopters and have contributed to much of its best innovation.

Drutopia and You

Is Drutopia for you? Do you see yourself, or a group you belong to or work for, in profiles below? If you do, then perhaps you’d like to join in.

Non-governmental organization (NGO)

  • I am the staff person at a small organization that works with marginalized people.

  • I need a website that is simple to use, even for staff and volunteers with not a lot of technical skills.

  • I don’t have the resources to pay for ongoing maintenance costs and upgrades, but I do have a grant for some start up site building work and can pay for hosting—but not too much.

  • My organization supports using open source software, but struggles when commercial “free” options are so pervasive and appealing.

  • My team all works for pretty low wages, so it’s hard to see us spend big bucks for “experts.”

Site builder

  • I am a site builder who has been working in Drupal for a couple of years now.

  • I really like the software and what it can do for the groups I build sites for.

  • I’m active in the issue queue posting questions about things I’m struggling with and reporting bugs, but I also try to offer up help when I can to others who are newer/less experienced that I am.

  • I’m really good at what I do but I have no illusions of being, or desire to become, a developer.
  • I’d like to feel that I had more value in the community and that my contributions were seen as worthwhile.

  • I’m really connected in to the groups I build sites for and so have a really good understanding of their needs, something that I feel sometimes high end developers are lacking.

  • I’d like to play a more active role but feel like I’m always going to be a second class citizen.


  • Sure, I may code for a living, but my real passion is making a difference.

  • I’ve done my share of griping about the corporate turn in Drupal, but I’m more interested in doing something about it.

  • I want to get back to what excited me about free software in the first place.

  • I’ve looked at Backdrop and I may use it for some projects, but I don’t want to give up on Drupal. In fact, I’m excited by Drupal 8.

  • I want to focus my contributions where they’re of the most value to the most people.

The Drutopia difference


Drutopia is organized to be inclusive, focusing on collective decision-making processes as well as drawing key strength from the groups that use the software. Two leadership teams, one technical and one community, will guide the project and will allow for an inclusive and non-hierarchical structure.

Drutopia will not only have low-resourced groups as its core constituent, they will in fact be a key part of its organizing structure.

A cooperative economic model

Drupal’s primary economic model is custom site builds. A loosely integrated corporate sector has grown around this model, specializing in high-cost customizations. Expenditures on individual site builds range into the hundreds of thousands of US dollars and beyond, with the bulk of development effort privatized in closed source code. In essence, the dominant Drupal economic model is based on charging different clients for building different sites over and over. As a consequence, the core software and its contributed plugins increasingly are focused on generic platform tools rather than stuff that you just turn on and use.

Building a viable alternative requires not only a more fitting project structure and specific technical program. It also requires an economic model.

Structuring the project from the outset on cooperative lines will provide an economic model focused solidly on collaboration, pooled resources, and shared solutions, rather than privatized customization.

Drutopia encourages:

  • Users and adopters to pool their resources to crowdfund new development and to take a lead in identifying needs and prioritizing new development.
  • Designers, site builders, and developers to focus on rolling their work into shared solutions available to everyone, heightening the ability of groups of all stripes and sizes to benefit.


A key priority in defining Drutopia’s structure will be reaching out to and involving individuals and groups who are using or interested in the project.

Organizing principles include:

  • Two leadership teams: technical and community.
  • Members of each team are actively involved in organizations that meet the target profile of the project.
  • End users and site builders are highly valued and are key participants in shaping the project.

View a listing of the current leadership team.

Drupal distribution solutions

Drutopia provides fresh approaches to address barriers that have held back distributions in the past.

  • User-centred. Drutopia organizers actively engage with and include people and organizations using and adopting the Drutopia approach.
  • Sharing-focused technical development. Drutopia contributes to and produces Drupal extensions that make cooperative development and pooled solutions an intrinsic part of everyday site development.
  • Pooled efforts for cooperative solutions. At the core of Drutopia’s software development is a base distribution called – yes – Drutopia. Rather than each distribution having its own version of events or blogs or search indexing, multiple distributions can collaboratively build and use a shared solution set. As well as reducing duplication, the Drutopia distribution will free up distribution developers to focus more on what they really care about: the specific niche their distribution addresses.
  • Cooperative economic models. Rather than high-cost custom site builds, Drutopia fosters low- or no-cost installs that allow low-resourced organizations to can get up and running with highly usable sites focused on their specific needs. Improvements and customizations are prioritized and crowd funded by users, and then rolled back into the Drutopia code base for all to benefit from.
  • Distributed, free software based hosting solutions. Drutopia supports the development of affordable hosting solutions based on free software.

Technical focuses

While not entirely neglecting previous versions, Drutopia is focused solidly on Drupal 8 and higher. In practice it’s too late to do a lot to improve Drupal 7. Plus, the architecture of Drupal 8 makes it technically feasible to enhance Drupal core in ways that were previously out of reach.

To enable pooled solutions, a key focus needs to be on shared configuration. At the core of a Drupal distribution is the configuration that makes up a set of solutions to meet related needs—organizing events, posting blogs, and so on.

Drupal 8 development included an approach to configuration that came out of consulting with a selection of the largest companies using Drupal and identifying their “pain points”. That process, the Configuration Management Initiative, produced a lot of improvements in configuration handling, but – true to its initial focus on the needs of large corporations – it mainly addressed the use case of “staging” configuration from one version of a site to another, a site-building technique that lower budget sites often don’t have time or money for.

Therefore, a key technical focus of the Drutopia initiative is to build extensions that focus solidly on the free software use case left out of Drupal core: reusable configuration that can be shared across multiple sites.

For more information, see Drutopia Drupal extensions.


Drutopia supports the Aegir project and other efforts to provide hosting solutions appropriate to the needs and means of low resourced organizations. We believe that the potential of the Drutopia configuration framework will only be truly unleashed as a fully hosted, member-owned platform. Members of the platform cooperative will drive forward the vision of the project – informing the development of new features. The sites themselves will span multiple participating hosts that endorse and follow the Hosted Drutopia Standards.

Beyond Drupal

Drupal 8 opens new possibilities for integrating with other emerging web technologies, including front end JavaScript frameworks and mobile applications.

Engaging Drupal 8’s native support for non-HTML rendering and RESTful applications, Drutopia focuses on built-in support for front end frameworks paired with a Drupal content management back end—what Drupal does best.

Join us!

With Drupal 8 and Drutopia both just beginning, it’s a great time to get involved. If you’re potentially interested, we’d love to talk.

Please drop us a line at Of course, you can also post to any of the Drutopia project issue queues.
Talk soon!

- The Drutopia team