You are here

Chocolate Lily: Authoritarian structure in Drupal: a case study

In the current context of a Drupal leadership crisis and debate about project governance, it's important to reflect on ways the dictatorship structure has shaped and continues to shape the culture of the project. In this vein, response to a 2007 post by Drupal contributor Gus Geraghty makes for a fascinating, if disturbing, case study.

I recommend reading (or rereading) that thread before continuing here. I've deliberately chosen an example from earlier days to emphasize how tensions in the project, and patterns of response, have persisted and shaped the project at key junctures. I also hope that some distance may help to set those events in a reflective light, where the focus is not on who did what but on what we can learn about the overall organizational culture.

Those who raise critical questions are making a valuable contribution. Particularly in an authoritarian structure, speaking up is risky.

In his post and followup comments, Geraghty directly questioned the dictatorship power structure of Drupal, focusing on the then-new commercial interests of Drupal founder and dictator for life, Dries Buytaert, and his company, Acquia. Geraghty proposed a concrete alternative: reorganizing the project along cooperative lines. In follow-up comments, he pointed to the Linux Foundation as a possible model, structured to ensure no one company could attain dominance in the software project:

it fosters the growth of Linux by focusing on protection, standardisation and providing a neutral forum for collaboration and promotion. It also sponsors the work of Linus Torvalds, as opposed to a commercial interest paying Linus.

The response was immediate, pointed, and overwhelming.