Impact of language and culture on French contributions to the Drupal open source project
Drupal (drupal.org), the open source content management system (CMS), has grown from a college student's message board project into an internationally recognized open source project used to power such websites as whitehouse.gov and economist.com. The project currently boasts over one million users, and almost 30,000 contributors to Drupal 8, the upcoming major release1. A 2011 blog post published by Dries Buytaert, the creator of Drupal, shows the number of commits (i.e. submissions of code to the Drupal.org website) rising from a handful in 2001 to almost 20,000 per month in June 2011. The number of users committing code to Drupal each month has also risen, from just one committer in 2001 to over 1,000 per month in 2011 (Buytaert, 2011). Drupal usage statistics have seen a similar spike; a conservative estimate of sites using Drupal shows a jump from just under 358,500 in 2010 to 947,151 in December 2013 (“Drupal Core Project Usage,” n.d.).
While the Drupal project has shown impressive growth, the continued success of the project depends on significant contributions of time, documentation and code from developers, designers and technical writers from around the world. In particular, several important additions to the Drupal project—including the Field API, which allows content types to have customized fields attached to them, Commerce, which allows Drupal sites to include full e-commerce shopping carts, and Symfony, an open-source PHP framework that will included as a major component of Drupal 8, were all created by French contributors. Despite these impressive contributions, French citizens who want to contribute their time to Drupal face several challenges; not only does Drupal contribution require large amounts of time and energy, the majority of the work done for the Drupal project—from documentation to issue tracking to the code itself—is done exclusively in English.
The purpose of this paper is to examine how French language, culture, and work attitudes influence the way that Drupal contribution happens in France. Specifically, this paper seeks to answer the following research questions:
- How does Drupal's use of English as a common development and documentation language impact the willingness of non-native English speakers to contribute code and documentation?
- How does France’s Loi Toubon impact innovation by French developers within Drupal?
- How does the French attitude towards work and personal/family time impact time spent on contributing to Drupal?
- What lessons can American managers learn about working with French colleagues? How can Drupal encourage more cross-cultural collaboration with the French?
The focus of this research borrows from the literature on open source contributors, as well as literature on cross-functional, globally distributed teams. In addition to these sources, it borrows heavily from Hofstede’s framework of cultural dimensions (G. Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 1991), as well as sources specific to French language, politics and culture. Information pertaining to Drupal was taken from several official project websites, including Drupal.org (the official home of the Drupal project), localize.drupal.org (home of all Drupal project translations), and Drupalfr.org (home of the French Drupal Association). Additionally, interviews were conducted over Skype with four high-volume French Drupal contributors, to gain a first-hand perspective from the French Drupal community.