Home' Technology Review : September October 2008 Contents TR 5 55
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There are tens of thousands of active Dru-
pal installations worldwide. Thousands
of developers have contributed to the sys-
tem's core, and more than 2,000 plug-ins
have been added by outside contributors.
Buytaert began the work that became
Drupal in 2000, when he was an under-
graduate at the University of Antwerp.
He had a news site called Drop.org, and
he needed an internal message board
to host discussions. After reviewing the
existing options for flexible message
boards, Buytaert decided he could write a
better version from scratch.
The original version of Drupal (its
name derives from the Dutch for droplet)
worked well enough to attract addi-
tional users, who proposed new features.
Within a year, Buytaert decided to make
the project open source. He released the
code in January 2001 as version 1.0.
Since open-source projects tend to
attract expert users, they often lack clear
user interfaces and readable documen-
tation, making them unfriendly to mere
mortals. But Buytaert understood from
the beginning how important usability
is to the cycle of improvement, adoption,
and more improvement that drives the
development of open-source software.
The core Drupal installation comes with
voluminous help files. The central team
regularly polls users as well as developers
(which is unusual in an open-source proj-
ect) to decide what to improve next. The
process reveals not just features to add,
but ones to remove, and ways to make
existing features easier to understand. For
example, the project's website has been
redesigned to help people new to Drupal
figure out how to get up and running.
Buytaert has also founded a company,
Acquia, to o er support, service, and cus-
tom development for Drupal users, espe-
cially businesses. He calls Acquia "my
other full-time job" and likens it to Linux
distributor Red Hat, which provides cus-
tom packaging and support for its version
of the open-source operating system.
With Drupal version 7, due later this
year, Buytaert hopes to include technolo-
gies that will make sites running Drupal
part of the Semantic Web, Tim Berners-
Lee's vision for making online data
understandable to machines as well as
people. If Drupal hosts a website contain-
ing a company's Securities and Exchange
Commission profile, for example, other
sites could access just the third-quarter
revenues, without having to retrieve the
whole profile. The goal of sharing data in
smaller, better-defined chunks is to make
Drupal a key part of the growing eco-
system of websites that share structured
data. If this e ort succeeds, it will ensure
Drupal's continued relevance to the still-
developing Web. ---Clay Shirky
JEFFREY KARP, 32
Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology
Gecko-inspired surgical tape
BIOENGINEER Je rey Karp may finally have found a noninvasive alterna-
tive to the sutures and staples that have long been a mainstay of surgery and
emergency medicine. Using a biodegradable elastic polymer, Karp and his
colleagues have created a surgical tape that is covered with nanoscale pillars
akin to the gripping structures on geckos' feet. Coated with a sugar-based
glue, the tape securely closes a surgical incision and then degrades com-
pletely over time.
Karp can adapt the polymer to suit di erent applications: a patch for the
heart, for example, would need to be more stretchable than one for the liver,
while one to close cuts on the skin would need a di erent pattern of pillars.
The polymer can also release drugs to help tissue heal. More than two dozen
companies are interested in licensing the tape, which has shown promise
in early animal tests. If all goes well, gecko tape could enter clinical trials
within five years. ---Katherine Bourzac
The tape is a stretchy
polymer strip cov-
ered on one side
and coated with glue.
Tissue locks into
the spaces between
pillars, and the glue
sticks to proteins on
the tissue s surface.
Gecko-inspired tape could replace or
reinforce sutures and staples and would
be especially helpful in lung and stomach
tissue, where postsurgical leaks of air or
gastric fluid can be deadly.
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