Jul 07 2009
Jul 07

Acquia Launches Cloud-based Solr Search Indexing

Posted by Jeffrey Scott -TypeHost Web Development | Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
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Acquia, the start-up company founded by Dries Buytaert, the lead developer & founder of Drupal, has announced that they are now providing paid search indexing for Drupal sites on a subscription basis aimed at enterprise sites. Similar to Mollom, Acquia’s anti-spam software for CMS platforms, Acquia Search will also work for those running other open source software like WordPress, Joomla, TYPO3, etc as well as sites with proprietary code. Acquia Search is based on the Lucene and Solr distributions of Apache, and essentially works by having Acquia index your site’s content on their computers and then send it with encryption on demand to supply user queries using an integrated Acquia Search module. According to the announcement, Acquia is using Solr server farms on Amazon EC2 to power this on cloud architecture.

Many people have complained about Drupal’s core search functionality over the years, but the server requirements behind Solr and Lucene require a Java extension that most people are not equipped to manage on their existing IT architecture, staff, or budget. So Acquia is offering these search functionalities as SaaS, or Software as a Service on a remote-hosted, pre-configured basis. If you want to do it yourself, see:
http://drupal.org/project/apachesolr

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solr

According to Dries:

“Acquia Search is included for no additional cost in every Acquia Network subscription. Basic and Professional subscribers have one ‘search slice’ and Enterprise subscribers have five ‘search slices’. A slice includes the processing power to index your site, to do index updates, to store your index, and to process your site visitors’ search queries. Each slice includes 10MB of indexing space – enough for a site with between 1,000 and 2,000 nodes. Customers who exceed the level included with their subscription may purchase additional slices. A ten-slice extension package costs an additional $1,000/year, and will cover an additional 10,000 – 20,000 nodes in an index of 100MB. For my personal blog, which has about 900 nodes at the time of this writing, a Basic Acquia Network subscription ($349 USD/year) would give me all the benefits of Acquia Search, plus all the other Acquia Network services.”1

Put in this perspective, most Drupal users likely won’t be switching to Acquia Search anytime soon. But, for the most part… they have little need to. For small sites or social networks, Drupal’s core search is going to be generally sufficient. Drupal will index your site automatically on cron runs, and keep this index of keywords and nodes in a table of your MySQL database. If you are working a lot with taxonomy and CCK fields, then Faceted Search is a recommended choice: http://drupal.org/project/faceted_search

I have used Faceted Search on a number of sites and it is excellent for building a custom search engine around your site’s own custom vocabularies, hierarchies, and site structures. Faceted Search is also important in a number of Semantic Web integrations working with RDF data and other micro-tags attached to data fields. Acquia Search is designed to work in this way as well as to facilitate the number crunching involved when high traffic sites with extremely large databases of content need to sift through search archives quickly to return results from user queries. Consider the example of Drupal.org in this context – Acquia Search is the solution to managing over 500,000 nodes and millions of search queries on an extremely active site.

“Reality is that for a certain class of websites — like intranets or e-commerce websites — search can be the most important feature of the entire site. Faceted search can really increase your conversions if you have an e-commerce website, or can really boost the productivity of your employees if you have a large intranet. For those organizations, Drupal’s built in search is simply not adequate. We invested in search because we believe that for many of these sites, enterprise-grade search is a requirement… The search module shipped with Drupal core has its purpose and target audience. It isn’t right for everyone, just as Acquia Search is not for everyone. Both are important, not just for the Drupal community at large, but also for many of Acquia’s own customers. Regardless, there is no question that we need to keep investing and improving Drupal’s built-in search.”2

In summary, Acquia Search is mostly targeted at enterprise level Drupal users with extremely large databases and high traffic, and is a cloud based solution that should not only speed up the rate of return on results, it should also improve the quality of the material returned based on faceted keywords & vocabularies. For those using Acquia’s personal or small business subscription accounts, the new search should appear as an additional “free bonus” with your monthly package of services. For users, even on a small site, the efficiency of faceted search may make information more accessible for visitors.

To learn more, visit: http://buytaert.net/acquia-search-benefits-for-visitors

  1. http://buytaert.net/acquia-search-available-commercially [?]
  2. http://buytaert.net/acquia-search-versus-drupal-search [?]

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May 13 2009
May 13

Citigate Cunningham Nominated for 2008 Gold SABRE Award for Acquia Public Relations

Posted by Jeffrey Scott -TypeHost Web Development | Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
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The public relations planning behind the launch of the new Acquia website has landed Citigate Cunningham, the firm who orchestrated the campaign, more than 100 media placements, 11 speaking engagements and two awards for Acquia since the project began in January 2008, according to a press release this week published on the web. The Holmes Group has also nominated Citigate Cunningham’s Acquia marketing and promotional campaign for a SABRE Award this year as one of the best new products in the “Business to Business” category on the web.

The article reports that the development team behind Acquia, which includes Drupal founder Dries Buytaert, had concerns about how the open source community would view a commercial Drupal development company and enterprise release of the CMS, and the PR campaign was designed to smooth this over.

“Drupal, a social publishing system with a vibrant, passionate open source community of more than 350,000 members, is the platform for many well-known company and educational institution websites. Acquia was launched with the mission to increase enterprise adoption of Drupal by providing enterprise-level functionality and support to the open source technology.”

“Citigate Cunningham recognized that a successful launch would require the delicate balance of generating substantial buzz around the company and its offerings, while remaining sensitive to the Drupal and open source community’s concerns about how a commercial company would impact the Drupal open source project. The agency leveraged Acquia Co-Founder and CTO Dries Buytaert, the original Drupal creator, as an evangelist, community advocate, and open source celebrity, and designed a three-stage strategic PR approach that would build trust within the Drupal community, drive demand for Acquia in a beta launch, and finally bridge the gap perceived by the enterprise community as part of the general availability launch.”

“To accomplish its goal, the team targeted both social and traditional media outlets including business press, technology trades, Web 2.0 blogs, and influential analysts frequently quoted in the press. Additionally, the agency raised Buytaert’s profile by securing high profile coverage, awards, and speaking engagements that served to seed confidence within the open source ecosystem.”1

Citigate Cunningham’s other clients include eTrade, Sprint, Cisco, HCL, OPSource, AliBaba, and other Silicon Valley & international IT firms. According to their site, “In enterprise technology, we have represented some of the biggest software and hardware brands in business applications, security, mobility, telecommunications, semiconductors, systems, IT services and high performance computing. We have also represented some of the coolest consumer tech companies in digital marketing, digital media and entertainment, consumer electronics, social media and eCommerce. Market segments we’ve penetrated include financial services, healthcare, government, education/academia, energy and manufacturing.”2

“We’re very proud to have been recognized as a finalist for the SABRE Awards,” said Gary Thompson, chairman of Citigate Cunningham. “Because Acquia offers commercial support for the well-known Drupal open source project, we had a built-in audience for our launch. Our biggest challenge was to reach beyond the Drupal community and expand the reach of the Acquia story into the enterprise market.”1

All in all, this can be seen as a pragmatic move by Acquia, contracting an industry leading PR firm to manage the launch of their brand internationally. Many people outside of the PR industry will undoubtedly feel a bit cynical when reading the inside language of public relations strategy, and few really investigate the way these PR firms hype the companies and products that they promote into news stories,”buzz”, and spin that most people take as legitimate news but may be little different in content than a paid corporate “info-mercial”.

Nevertheless, it is easy to see the risk involved in not getting it right at the time of start up (“cuil”), and the fact that everything has gone so well for Acquia since their launch has definitely earned Citigate Cunningham a lot of support & respect. The fact that Acquia has a great product and team to promote has undoubtedly made the process much easier.

Acquia and the Drupal development team have shown great attention to the small details across all aspects of the project that are a symbol of professionalism in open source, and the PR campaign surrounding the launch of Acquia is another example of that. But for most users, “a strategic PR campaign to build trust” and “seed confidence” is only going to work when the PR campaign itself disappears into the background noise.

  1. http://www.pr-inside.com/citigate-cunningham-named-finalist-for-r1238913.htm [?] [?]
  2. http://www.citigatecunningham.com/clients/index.htm [?]

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May 04 2009
May 04

Automattic releases BuddyPress – Official “Sister Project” to WordPress

Posted by Jeffrey Scott -TypeHost Web Development | Monday, May 4th, 2009
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Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress and Automattic, announced the release of BuddyPress last week on the official WordPress site. The BuddyPress site is live, with free downloads and installation instructions for BuddyPress 1.0 – which expands a typical WordPress blog installation into a full social network with most of the features of mySpace, Facebook, Ning, and other popular sites. My first reaction on this is… amazing, massive, incredible, exactly what was needed, soon to be huge, and really nice design over all. Congratulations to all involved in the development and publication of this release, it looks like a very important move in the future evolution of the WordPress platform and something that will encourage many social network developers to build with the CMS.

“What if there was software with the elegance and extensibility of WordPress but all the features you’ve come to expect from social networks like Facebook? Now there is: check out BuddyPress. BuddyPress is an official sister project of WordPress. The idea behind it was to see what would happen to the web if it was as easy for anyone to create a social network as it is to create a blog today. There’s been an explosion of social activity on the web, it’s probably the most important trend of the past few years, but there’s been a dearth of Open Source tools that enable the social web. In WordPress we have a robust and extensible base that can scale to many millions of users, and BuddyPress is essentially a set of plugins on top of WordPress that add private messaging, profiles, friends, groups, activity streams, and everything else you’ve come to expect from your favorite social network, like a Facebook-in-a-box.”1

To take a look at the BuddyPress demo site, visit: http://testbp.org/

BuddyPress includes user profiles, private messaging, friends / buddylists, groups, activity streams, a wall / stream like section called “the wire” for status updates and tweet-like on-site micro-blogging, in addition to multi-user blogs and forums. I use this same profile quite a lot in building social networks with Drupal using Panels, Advanced Profile Kit, Buddylist, Private Message, Flag, Activity Stream, Views, CCK, Content Profile / Bio, Organic Groups, and other modules. Because of the multiple development teams managing the combination of modules needed to build the working equivalent of this in Drupal, and the 5.x / 6.x / 7.x development cycle variations + all the time assembling, theming, and debugging a social network install in Drupal… the out of the box offering from BuddyPress will be a strong challenge.

For examples of sites that have been built with BuddyPress, see:

Sample demo profile page: http://testbp.org/members/galen/

WannaNetwork – Online Real Estate Community: http://wannanetwork.com/

Flokka – Women in Business: http://flokka.com/

GrungePress – Online Music Community: http://grungepress.com/

Working daily with both WordPress and Drupal both for web publishing and building social networks for clients, I have long felt WordPress had many advantages for single user blogs (really nice themes, for example) vs. Drupal, but lacked the module expandability to allow the construction of social networks. BuddyPress completely changes that and offers out of the box what is very challenging to build in Drupal. It could save 2 to 3 weeks development time on a complex social network site, and allowing the designer to focus work on the theme and content rather than building the module architecture.

My hope is that Acquia (or another company or developer) will release a “social network” installation profile for Drupal that is similar to this. Despite the large number of social networks built with Drupal, I don’t think there has been anything close to an “official” social networking profile like BuddyPress. One reason for this – and it may be related to the release of BuddyPress as a “sister project” rather than just a collection of modules that plugin to WordPress, is to create a complex social network site that deploys on an installation profile you need to install in a way that the database is pre-populated with all the correct settings, permissions, and everything is automatically positioned in the site by block, section, menu, etc. To do this in Drupal, you basically have to include a mySQL database map with the installation profile – something that I also haven’t seen often, but we are working on at TypeHost. Then you have to have a GUI layer that makes it easy for the user to transform the archetypal site structure into a personal site. From the way it looks, Automattic has done this perfectly with BuddyPress.

In terms of branding, the name is not the absolute best choice here in my opinion, but there must have been a clear reasoning behind not just releasing it as another version of WordPress, like “WordPress – SN (Social Network)” vs. “WordPress (Blog or Standard version).” Also it is interesting that the projects seem to be on independent / co-dependent / inter-related development paths, but that BuddyPress is not being considered “the next” version of WordPress. Again, similar to Drupal, there is some decision making that sees these not as “core” modules – despite the fact that many people see them as core to the functionality of the CMS. WordPress functioning as a full social network may not be needed by the majority of single user blog publishers who use the CMS as a platform, but this release is going to make a big difference on the web. It will be interesting to chart the usership statistics of BuddyPress vs. WordPress over the next year to see how many sites adopt the new changes.

Summary: combined with WordPress themes and publishing ease, the addition of full social network functionality to the platform with the release of BuddyPress 1.0 is a slam dunk / home run for Automattic, bloggers, traditional WordPress users, and social network developers. Look to see this on even more websites than WordPress in the future, and to pull a lot of development away from Drupal, which still lacks a unified offering that builds a social network as simply and easily as BuddyPress.

  1. http://wordpress.org/development/2009/04/make-friends-with-buddypress/ [?]

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web