Outsiders and Insiders – Understanding Drupal.org users

OK, there are two important first steps you need to take when contemplating a design (or, in this case, a redesign) – understanding what the business/organisation wants the design to achieve, and understanding who your audience/customers/users/potential users are, and what they want to achieve, what their goals are.

A really common way to capture this information about users is in the form of personas. The personas can then be referred to throughout the design process to test that what you’re designing is actually the right thing for your end users, and to help you to prioritise functionality and content on the site. Basically, to stop you trying to be all things to all people, which as we know, is the fast track to failure.

Now, I’m the last person to suggest that personas are highly scientific (although some people do work very hard to make them statistically sound) – to me, this is not the best way to spend project time. It is imperative that personas are based on research though – going out and actually meeting a bunch of people who form your target audience, because very often, the personas you need (or, at least, the way you ‘break down’ your audience) is what it might first seem.

The Drupal Community put together some personas a while ago, featuring characters like Mary the Manager, Tim the Tool-User, Wendy the Webmaster and more. As you can probably guess, they are based on the ‘role’ that users are playing in relation to Drupal. At first blush, this seems like a logical way to segment the Drupal audience.

It is an important segmentation but – as I’ve discovered over the past few weeks – I don’t think it’s the most important one. Firstly, as we saw in our survey, and this was supported by what I heard when talking to members of the Drupal community, very many Drupal users work across a range of different roles. They do some developing, some designing, some decisionmaking, some sales… all kinds of things. I don’t know this as a fact, but I’d hazard a guess that the ‘pure’ Drupal developer is actually a minority. Just a guess.

At any rate – it doesn’t really make sense to have Danielle the Designer as a persona we’re designing for because Danielle is much more likely to do some code, some design, some content administration, some dealing with clients. The role based persona doesn’t accurately reflect the kind of people we’re meeting out in Drupal-land.

Proposed segmentation – outsiders and insiders

I think our audience segmentation for Drupal.org should actually be a lot simpler than personas – it’s about ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’ and the path that people take from their first encounter with Drupal.


Insiders are those of you who are close to the Drupal community – who know and love Drupal and the people who gather around it. You understand ‘Drupal-speak’, you know who’s who in the zoo, you ‘get’ open source. You’re clued in, and you’re also incredibly important to the ongoing success of Drupal – both through the project work that you’re doing (if you’re an ‘insider’ you’ll know what I mean by ‘project work’, if you’re an outsider, you probably won’t – see, Drupal-speak in action, I’m rapidly being indoctrinated!). Also through the community work that you’re doing – Drupal ‘insiders’ are critical to getting people over the ‘brick wall’ I was talking about in our Experience Strategy, they are the people who help ‘grow others up’, or to educate them in the mysterious ways of Drupal. They’re very important people.

They are most likely to be, but not exclusively, developers. Or, at least, to have written code in a past life. This is why Drupal-speak is very much techy-speak.


Outsiders don’t know much about Drupal, although they have have installed it and gotten a site (albeit ugly) up and running. They may not know what a module is, although they may have posted on the Drupal forums seeking help. They definitely don’t know about the IRC channel where the insiders live. They are facing a fairly steep learning curve (including learning Drupal-speak!). They haven’t ‘hitched their wagon’ to Drupal – yet. They might get a better offer elsewhere.

Along the engagement pathway:

Some of you will identify as Insiders and some as Outsiders, but very many will fall somewhere along one of the ‘engagement’ pathways I’ve scrawled in the picture above. Some of you know a LOT about Drupal, but you’re not a developer so you don’t feel like you’re a ‘proper’ insider. Some of you are well on your way to becoming an insider, having gotten access to the right tools and – more importantly – the right people! Some of you used to be much more of an insider but have other things on your plate at the moment that have drawn you away a little. Some of you have tried to head down the engagement path, but are being thwarted or scared off.

As we move forward with the redesign, this is the model that I’m suggesting we use to evaluate the work we’re doing – to consider this engagement pathways and to plot some key points along it and to see whether what we’re suggesting is going to support users at each of these points on the pathway.

This way, we avoid designing only for those of us who are loudest (and probably most engaged in the community), and we maintain a focus on the range of experiences we need to support on drupal.org – maintaining focus on what matters – the people who use the site, rather than the technology, or the tools or anything else that needs to be wrangled into a good user experience.

What do you think? Does this make sense to you?

18 thoughts on “Outsiders and Insiders – Understanding Drupal.org users

  1. I think you’re hitting a solid point about the Outsiders, and work needs to be done both on the drupal.org website and with Drupal itself.

    Years ago, I installed 4.7 and fled in horror, and now I’m doing Drupal work full-time.

    Part of it was Drupal itself, the other part was my ability (or rather lack thereof) of getting useful information. Coming from the Java world, I never needed to go to a forum (and certainly not IRC) to find out how to do something. APIs were documented well and there were a lot of relevant canned examples.

    There’s also a perception with forums that they lack authority. If I am completely new and am looking for an answer, how do I know who is the right person to listen to? Sure I could look up the author and see what modules they’ve done, yada, yada, but as someone who is investigating Drupal as a solution, I’m not going to. Actual documentation on the website proper at least feels more valid than a forum post because it’s likely been vetted by the people in charge of the project.

    Two examples I can think of off hand are the Hibernate and Spring projects for Java applications. The documentation is extensive, solid, and covers the vast majority of initial problems and usage scenarios.

    Part of this may be how I personally judge products. If I can find extensive documentation that explains what it does then I’m much more likely to try it. If the only real information I can find is in user forums, I’m not going to see it in as good a light.

  2. I like this categorization. It makes sense to me (I’m a bit of an outsider to drupal yet).

    But still, some specific parts of drupal.org are specific for certain kind of roles. Designers will never visit api.drupal.org, and more likeley to spend time on the themes section. Developers more time on the api, the issue queue, less time on the Themes section, etc.

  3. I like this way of thinking. In familiarizing themselves with new technology, people hit these moments where they must decide whether to ask for help, trudge through alone, or give up. Being cognizant and responsive to the process is extremely important.

  4. From my experiences with Drupal and drupal.org, I’d agree the categorization is right on.

    However, the term “outsiders” makes me feel kinda bad. When I was playing around with Drupal I did indeed feel like an outsider but I wouldn’t want to be formally labeled as such. What you’re describing here is less about who’s in and who’s out and more about who’s committed to Drupal and who’s not.

  5. This is certainly an important way of thinking about a user lifecycle.

    I am not at all fond though of the terms insider and outsider. They just reinforce all the wrong ideas. At a retail shop, do we call the staff Insiders and the customers Outsiders? Surely the role of the staff is to engage and welcome and educate the customers. I think Insider might be better called a Guide. Dunno about Insider.

  6. The concept of a user pathway (or “ladder of engagement” in another way of thinking) is huge.

    No one is an outsider, they are just not an insider yet.

    PLUS, an information architecture that supports a ladder of engagement allows the community to empirically measure how many “webchicks in the making” are out there and how fast they are progressing on a ladder of engagement.

    Reputation systems and other social networking concepts can be tied to that engagement ladder so users have an incentive and clear understanding that they are encouraged to move up the ladder of engagement if they want to.

  7. i think this distinction makes a lot of sense.

    i can see the points about the words “insider” and “outsider” maybe having undesirable connotations — but, the great thing about personas is that you don’t have to use labels at all, you can just give them names and goals/tasks. thinking about them in terms of what buckets they fall into (and, i guess, what those buckets are named) can be helpful during persona development, but the end result doesn’t have to fit within them.

  8. The inside/outside analogy is very useful and just plain true I think.

    http://groups.drupal.org/node/3761#comment-18895 discusses another way to ‘rise above’ using persona with Goal Groups:

    “Goal Groups consist of users who share the same use goals, i.e. they want the same effects. Goal Groups can be comprised of many different personas since personas may share the same use goals. Goals Groups are groups of the users that usability folks call “stakeholders”.

    Use goals should be relatively high level since they are NOT use cases! Instead, a use goal can be broken down into use cases. For example, the Goal Group “Committers” might consist of personas Themer and Developer. Committers want to easily track issues for their projects. That’s a use goal and it can then be broken down into the use cases such as “submits an issue”, “posts follow-up to issue”, “posts patch” etc.”

  9. thank you all for your thoughtful feedback – I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

    I agree that the idea of the ‘outsider’ is not a particularly pleasant one, it makes us feel uncomfortable to label people (or be labeled) in this way – and yet, it’s not something that I made up. This is the way that people have labeled themselves when I have been talking with them about their Drupal experience. For many people, it’s not a good experience, it’s not pleasant, and I think that the discomfort that we get from using the label ‘outsiders’ reflects that, and should focus our minds on changing this experience.

    At the moment, it’s not the ‘outsider’s’ fault that they are an outsider – we’re just not doing a very good job of engaging people, or getting them to take the first few steps onto the ‘ladder’ (as David’ described it so nicely).

    I have had thoughts of re-framing this around something softer and more friendlier… like a ‘tree’ (family tree?) and we’re all just in different parts of the tree… but I think that might just be a bit of a cop out.

    I think we need to ’embrace’ the discomfort of the poor experience we’re giving to people who are not yet part of the Drupal community, and make sure we improve it. Hopefully in years to come, we can look back at this segmentation and find that it is completely out of date!

    @Joaquin – yes, definitely, there is still a time to look at things from a ‘role’ perspective, I agree with that. But I think these should be in specific instances (like the ones you’ve described) rather than our overarching approach.

  10. A couple of thoughts went through my mind reading this. I’m not sure if either of them are useful, but I’ll jot them down just in case.

    As somebody new to Drupal at the start of this year, I think the level of technical knowledge makes a big difference to what you want to know when you first encounter Drupal. As somebody who knows PHP, MySQL etc, what I wanted to know when I first encountered Drupal probably quickly diverged from what somebody who didn’t would want to know. For instance, I was interested in how good the API would be for me to customise Drupal to do the weird things that I wanted it to do more than its out-of-the-box capabilities. I also wanted to understand things like the database structure pretty early on. I think this slightly different from a developer/non-developer classification. Lots of my goals *are* similiar to those of a non-developer but I might sometimes approach them in a different way.

    Secondly, expertise and community involvement don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I know so much more about Drupal know than I did eight months ago. I have spent many many hours on drupal.org, know ‘Drupal-speak’, and have even evangalised Drupal to colleagues, but haven’t got involved in the community. I’d like to contribute stuff back at some point and get more involved in the community, but it’s not a current priority for me (especially as I can’t justify spending time at work on that!)

  11. On a personal basis, I found the journey of getting to know Drupal fascinating and valuable. However, I’m certain that I’m weird in that respect and that the site is scary to the uninitiated.
    A friend and colleague of mine said that he believed that the front of d.o should be geared toward the uninitiated completely. Developers can jump in right away and go to http://developer.drupal.org.
    Perhaps a bit basic, but the big players do that.

  12. I like the idea that, as you say in the comments, we need to ‘fess up to the terms insider and outsider in order to dismantle them.

    Somehow, I have been using Drupal for years but still felt like an outsider. I know IRC but am not a developer. I use Drupal in an important, yet peripheral part of my jobs.

    It was not until going to the the Drupal events in my local area in Ireland that I felt a great sense of community. I was encouraged by others in the group to go to Drupal con in Szeged. And then, finally I really think I got it…

    I think we need to play up the face to face aspects of local user groups in Drupal. I am doing my part in Ireland to bring on more users, inspired by what I saw in Szeged. A lot of this is hiding on g.d.o. And it needs to be brought to the fore.

    It has been a huge transformation in my own sense of drupal self, being at the conference. And I hope to share that with others I meet locally in the future.

    It’s funny, my Drupal mates tease me about my user ID of 740 but I still am a self described noob and proud of it! I’m so busy with loads of things at work, drupal helps me create project sites on-the-fly… I help others out especially other noobs… And now, after being at the con I know my role is valid and important.

    Best wishes for the redesign! Its going to be great.

  13. I’ve come here from groups.drupal.org/marketing drupal- so am contributing my thoughts as a Drupal marketeer.

    I consider myself to have been an Outsider before I was exposed to this amazing community of people who have been more than happy to share information to help me learn more about Drupal. (I’m a big believer that information wants to be free so this is great.)

    After scrolling through Dries’ blog, http://buytaert.net/, and viewing the increasing number of global organisations now signing up to Drupal, I’ve often wondered what Mary the Manager is told, in plain English, before she signed off on the cheque.

    I’ve found this to be the biggest issue for our company as we start to roll out Drupal training in Australia. Its been interesting working out what exactly to say to Dan the Developer in the same breath as talking to Mary.

    In our case, we have yet another layer. We’re not just pitching Drupal training to Mary and Dan, we’re also pitching it to (enter stage left) “Harry the Human Resources Manager”.

    Its no surprise that global organisations will only consider using Drupal here if support structures such as training are in place within the Drupal eco-system.

    So, for this reason, I don’t necessarily see an Outsider as a negative term. I think everyone has their particular area of expertise that feeds into our world and not everyone aspires to be an Insider. However, given the right message by our community, this should by no means diminish an Outsider’s desire or ability to support Drupal’s proliferation from afar.

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