From the ancient streets of Lille, France to the frontier of tech at DrupalCon 2023, we delve into the future of CMS editing with AI and explore other innovative highlights emerging from this year's conference.
DrupalCon is always our favorite conference of the year because of the hands-on collaboration that occurs amongst developers, designers, and marketers from around the world. It is inspiring to see how the Drupal community is constantly growing and adapting to the future. As an incredibly international technology framework, Drupal embraces a revolving European city as its host each year, providing the perfect platform for the community to come together to share their knowledge and innovation of Drupal. It’s always refreshing to collaborate in person with fellow Drupal thought leaders as we work together to improve our Drupal offerings for clients. Attending conferences like DrupalCon 2023 keeps our product at the forefront of the MarTech industry, as we strive to deliver the most user-friendly and fast-to-market experience while ensuring ongoing upgrades, enterprise-level hosting, and next-gen security to optimize brand digital stories.
DrupalCon 2023 Highlights
At this year’s conference held in Lille, France, one major theme that emerged was the use of AI in the Drupal authoring tools intended to evolve the user experience of the admin for authors, the modules for developers, as well as the overall customer experience of the Drupal brand. Another key theme emphasized at the conference was the integration of design tools, such as Figma, to create Drupal design systems and accelerate time to market.
Drupal’s visionary founder, Dries Buytaert, kicked off the conference with his keynote address spotlighting Drupal’s commitment to evolve the experience for both developers and authors alike. Buytaert spoke about the various competing platforms in the space from the most user-friendly self-service CMS platforms to the most enterprise and complex tools. He focused on how Drupal is designed to be at the intersection of ease of use and enterprise-grade security, scalability, and total flexibility. As additional incremental versions of Drupal are released over the next year, we will start to see some exciting enhancements to help promote this admin ease of use for both developers and authors.
Buytaert also reiterated the emphasis on Drupal’s Open Web Manifesto, which was very symbolic of the diverse international attendance at the conference, comprised of developers, designers, and marketers. The Open Web Manifesto strives to empower users, creators, and architects to have a place in the open web as Drupal evolves, regardless of their background, identity, wealth, or status. Moreover, Drupal will always strive to protect data and enable the next generation of innovators while being resilient to the changing world. Drupal’s commitment to never being built on proprietary technology ensures everyone has the freedom to use it and it will never be controlled by a single person or entity.
Key Updates in Drupal Emerging from DrupalCon 2023
Throughout the conference, we had the exciting opportunity to listen to enlightening keynotes and participate in working sessions that highlighted the ease of use within the Drupal platform. Here are some of the features that stood out the most:
- Admin Tool Bar Enhancements: Heard in both opening and closing keynotes, the Drupal project owners are working to reimagine how the Drupal admin experience approaches navigation. A future release will change the way Drupal users navigate the admin bar in a much more intuitive, modern, and accessible way. We anticipate this being a major time-saving enhancement to complete tasks inside the admin, as well as enhancing how users retain knowledge of where and how to complete those tasks.
- Field UI: We learned about the enhancements to the Field UI module which improves the user interface for creating fields and managing field storage information. This helps make it faster and more user-friendly for builders to structure data when setting up modules and page layouts.
- Layout Builder: There are significant enhancements coming with the layout builder experience in Drupal. Although this update is still in the earlier stages of development, it strives to create more side-by-side editing. Specifically, split edit and preview modes will help improve the authoring experience for the visual layout tools. As authors populate content in edit mode, they will have a real-time visual representation to preview content which will expedite the time to create accurate content. We can also expect to see more in page editing controls while working in layout builder directly, rather than toggling back to edit mode. These advancements are particularly exciting as they simplify the onboarding process for new authors to the Drupal platform.
- Project Browser: A game changer for developers, Project Browser will integrate a clean and intuitive interface within the Drupal admin for searching and installing modules. Builders will be able to locate the Drupal modules to fit their needs directly from the admin and install it at the same time instead of going out to the community and installing them separately. The overarching goal is to explore integration possibilities with foundation components, potentially mimicking the setup for a custom UI for other developers. This initiative is part of Drupal Core and aims to create a custom interface for displaying available assets and indicating their install status. Behind the scenes, Composer powers this module, making it more accessible to developers, even if they are not well-versed in Composer's intricacies.
Content and Collaboration Tools
Our meeting with the CKEditor team at the conference led to valuable insights into their collaboration tools, and we are excited to start integrating them into our own client delivery. CKEditor is a rich text editor that comes with Drupal Core, boasting a range of rich features such as real-time commenting, track changes, and revision history. Tools that are typically available for content collaboration outside of Drupal (e.g., Microsoft Word, Google Docs, etc.) are available directly for Drupal admins.
This development will allow us to install our ZenSource code base at an early project stage, enabling content authors to start mapping, migrating, and writing content very early on. With the seamless integration of these content collaboration tools and CMS page building in one place, we can extend the content migration timelines and ease the burden and stress of authors, all while keeping the project on time and on budget.
Automation and Design Integration in Drupal
Adjacent to admin experience, it was also exciting to see how different agencies and software companies are using Figma to streamline their design and development process. Although we’ve embraced this approach in our own design and development sprints, it was refreshing to see the widespread adoption and the exchange of tips and tricks for how various organizations are focusing on a reusable design system that pairs Figma with what is already built in Drupal. It was particularly valuable seeing the implementation of process at the outset of a project for how designers, developers, and project managers work together to design and document the design system before it goes to development. When careful planning and attention go into creating a design system for a specific client, or even for reuse at an industry level, the efficiency results are exponential.
The Dominant Theme of DrupalCon 2023: Improving Drupal Editing with AI
Undoubtedly one of the most flexible and future-proof CMS frameworks, Drupal is adapting to the dynamic landscape through its pioneering integration of AI. The dominant theme from DrupalCon this year alongside user admin evolution, was the prominent role of AI. Closely related to the CKEditor rich text collaboration, Drupal is also using OpenAI to integrate tools within the editing experience. This integration allows authors to ask the admin questions to help generate and refine content, check for typos and grammar mistakes, and translate content to foreign languages. We saw use cases for creating search widgets and related wayfinding tools using AI to help return relevant content. Specifically, AI is being trained to do so based on content that is stored in the Drupal database. For example, we saw a demo of a recipe website, where all of the recipe content was fed into an AI bot for training. As a result, site users could make requests such as “I want to see Italian recipes that are less than 10 steps” to return specific and relevant answers.
The Future of Drupal and ZenSource: AI-Driven Possibilities
As we move forward with the evolution of ZenSource, we are eager to start implementing the AI-driven admin features quickly, making it available for our clients within the next six months. In doing so, we will introduce our ZenCMS as a premium offering, including CKEditor’s collaboration and AI-driven content creation, editing, and optimization. This will expedite and improve the experience of the content creation process while boosting productivity and alleviating stress for our clients.
We also plan to further develop our own wayfinding search tools. Similar to the examples we saw at DrupalCon, we have begun to use Open AI to develop a search bot based on our own internal database of content we are using for training. As we evolve our ZenSource experience accelerators, we will use AI to develop additional search widgets for our clients in education, healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing. As we work with our clients to develop a Drupal database of all their content, we want to leverage the work to expose better AI-driven search tools for their site users. In short, we can use these AI search tools to personalize the site experience for users based on their interests and needs.
Our ZenSource team walked away from this year’s DrupalCon with purpose and clear next steps to continue to evolve our platform. One of the biggest reasons why we chose Drupal and the open web to build ZenSource is because of what the conference itself symbolizes-- an ever-evolving platform, powered by thousands of devoted individuals across the globe to deliver something on the cutting-edge of technology and client business enablement. As we return to our workstations and jump back into our product development, we will be using these AI enhancements as well as Drupal community experience improvements to deliver exceptional experiences for our clients in the coming months.