With all of the chatter about Drupal 7, it would have been easy to miss one or two Drupal-related announcements last April. One of those announcements dealt with Buzzr (news, site), a Lullabot (news, site)-spawned startup focused on bringing hosted Drupal solutions to the masses.

Aside from a small announcement last August, the folks at Buzzr have been pretty quiet, so we thought we'd check in.

Built on Drupal 6

Of course, with Lullabot in the mix you know Buzzr is built on top of Drupal (news, site). Specifically, Buzzr is built on Drupal 6. Buzzr CEO Ed Sussman explains that "Drupal 6 has allowed us to immediately access and integrate dozens of critical modules for our users that are not going to be available on Drupal 7 for some time to come."

Staying with Drupal 6 lets the Buzzr team wait until they feel all of the necessary Drupal 7 modules are ready and stable before migrating the platform to the new version. Unlike many Drupal 6 users, however, Buzzr users may barely notice the change. No doubt they'll get new functionality along with the update, but Buzzr is a usability layer on top of Drupal.

Rather than learning a new UI when the underlying platform upgrades, end users will experience an iteration of the UI they're already used to.

The Buzzr demo video from April 13, 2009.

Buzzr and Drupal 7 Usability

According to Sussman, work on Buzzr has in part spurred Drupal 7 usability work, and in some ways the Drupal 7 UI has moved closer to that of the Buzzr interface (the other direction wasn't really possible, Buzzr was already in prototype by the time some of the first hand-drawn D7UX sketches were shown online). This is no surprise since Angie "webchick" Byron, Drupal 7 Maintainer, is also a Lullabot employee and a developer on the Buzzr project.

Since Buzzr is an entirely different layer and not part of Drupal itself, Sussman says that usability expert Karen McGrane has been able to take her work farther afield than the D7UX team. Targeting end users without extensive technical expertise, the folks at Buzzr have streamlined the interface in part by removing features that they feel most of their user base won't need.

Sussman likens the adjustments to "putting an automatic transmission on a sports car that previously was only available with a clutch. Race car drivers will always want the clutch, but without the automatic transmission, a lot of people wouldn't ever be able to drive."

Buzzr's Contributions to Drupal

As part of the work on Buzzr, a number of modules have been created and/or enhanced. Of course, many of the Lullabot team members are also heavy contributors to Drupal and its external modules, so a lot of synchronicity should be expected between the Lullabot team, the Buzzr team and Drupal development.

In particular, Sussman states that due to work on Buzzr, the Lullabot team has helped create new modules jQuery UI, SimpleViews, Views Attach, Views Gallery and Form Builder. They've also helped to extend Embed Filter, Fivestar, jQuery Update, Multiblock and Voting API.

Buzzr or Drupal Gardens?

Earlier this year, Drupal company Acquia (news, site) announced their own hosted Drupal solution, Drupal Gardens (initially called Acquia Gardens). Both Buzzr and Drupal Gardens will compete for the same market of users who want to quickly set up Drupal sites without having to handle the installation and hosting themselves. Of course, since Drupal leader Dries Buytaert is with Acquia, this development also means that both maintainers of Drupal 7 are involved in hosted Drupal projects.

Sussman points out that both platforms will also allow users to export their code and data in a format that can be placed onto another Drupal installation, whether this choice means a user has outgrown the automatic transmission and craves a stick, or wants to move to the competing platform.

Will Drupal Experts Use Hosted Services?

What about Drupal-based designers and developers? Sussman predicts that some will be attracted to hosted Drupal services because doing so:

  • Lets them launch customer sites faster
  • Will give customers a good experience running and maintaining their own sites

However, in the case of Buzzr, Sussman emphasizes that they're targeting end users who want to maintain and run their own sites without requiring advanced training.

What Else is Coming?

Sussman hints that in addition to the main Buzzr release, they're also working on "providing white label multi-site solutions for enterprises interested in rolling out social-media friendly sites quickly and efficiently -- reducing their reliance on large teams of highly skilled developers."

While that statement might alarm highly-skilled developers, it will be interesting to see the results. Also, Sussman points out that Buzzr is just now putting together its reseller network and "opening its platform to white label clients." He invites inquiries from interested parties.