Acclaimed Science Magazine "Discovers" Plone
|Site||Acclaimed Science Magazine "Discovers" Plone|
|Industry||Publishing and Printing, News and Media|
- DISCOVER chose Plone for its rich feature set, development community, ease-of-use, reputation and economics.
- Before Plone, it took DISCOVER up to three weeks to publish a magazine issue online. With Plone, that has been cut to as few as three days.
- Streaming video, blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds and photo galleries are enabled and integrated by Plone.
- Integration of social networking sites like Digg and Reddit has resulted in an increase in site traffic of nearly 70%.
- Any site content can be made "Subscriber-only" by DISCOVER editors.
automatically generates related articles for each of the thousands of
articles on the site. No manual intervention is required.
- Thousands of articles were successfully and automatically migrated from DISCOVER's old CMS into Plone with no loss of inbound links.
- DISCOVERmagazine.com is a high-traffic site that performs extremely well under heavy load.
DISCOVER Magazine's new website (DISCOVERmagazine.com) reflects its ongoing commitment to delivering science news through the most innovative technologies available. Its exclusive online content incorporates an array of multimedia capabilities including high impact videos, blogs, podcasts, photo galleries and RSS feeds.
Plone (plone.org) was chosen as an ideal platform to build the website because of the system's ease-of-use, robust feature set, strong open source community, reduced vendor lock-in, outstanding customizability, standards compliance and high performance.
DISCOVER's site was designed and developed by Abstract Edge (AbstractEdge.com), a boutique digital consulting firm focused on online marketing strategy, execution and education for media, hospitality and lifestyle brands. Abstract Edge, based in New York, has been building websites with Plone since its introduction and has been instrumental in the development of key Plone technologies such as Archetypes (Plone's core content type system.)
Managing the Website
A major consideration in deploying Plone was the platform's ease-of-use for website editors and managers. Amos Kenigsberg, DISCOVER's Web Editor specifically mentioned Plone's "very intuitive interface" and "simple and clear file structure" as two reasons why he strongly prefers Plone over DISCOVER's previous CMS, a closed, proprietary system.
"Compared to our previous CMS," said Kenigsberg, "Plone is very 'webby'. It's a much more web-standard interface so I don't have to learn an entirely new UI (User Interface) that I'm not used to. There are no fiddly controls that operate on their own UI logic. It almost feels like you're editing the web page right on the page itself, without any seams between editing and viewing. With our old CMS, editing was completely separate from viewing – it had a completely different appearance, interface and UI logic."
Plone's ease-of-use allows all DISCOVER editors to start managing the site quickly and everyone to work more efficiently.
In Design Integration: Automatic Import of an Entire Issue
New articles can be added to the site either manually by the site editor, or automatically by importing from a series of In Design files. This automatic article entry is especially useful if an editor wants to add all articles from the print magazine at once. In fact, this feature reduced the amount of time the DISCOVER staff needs each month to publish an issue from 2 to 3 weeks down to 3 to 5 days.
Articles added to Plone are not visible to the public until the web editor chooses to manually publish the issue. This gives the web editors time to choose an article's channels and sub-channels, tweak the look-and-feel, fix any typos, and set any web-specific content or meta-data such as a RSS description or editor-chosen related articles. Issues and articles can be published instantly or scheduled for a future date and time.
Manual Article Entry and Editing
Web editors can also add content to the site manually. As soon as an article is entered into Plone, it is fully indexed by the search engine, though search results will only include articles the viewer has permission to see. Articles that are not yet published, or are subscriber-only, will not show for the general public.
The content editor has Microsoft Word-like editing capabilities, making it simple for non-technical people to use. In addition to standard WYSIWYG capabilities (bold, italics, bullets, images, links, etc.) the editor is easily customized to allow for pre-set text styles, (captions, pullquotes, etc.) enforcing a consistent look-and-feel for the site.
Plone's WYSIWYG toolbar
Article length can span one or more pages (pagination), and site editors can determine page breaks, text, sidebars, images, and captions.
Articles are primarily organized by channels and departments. Each channel covers a major topic in science or technology: "Health & Medicine", "Mind & Brain", "Technology", "Space", "Human Origins", "Living World", "Environment", and "Physics & Math".
Articles can live within multiple channels at any one time. The article's primary channel determines which ad units are displayed, allowing DISCOVER to sell ad space by channel (an advertiser might want to advertise in the "Environment" channel but not the "Mind & Brain" channel.) Additionally, articles can be organized within one or more sub-channels (such as "Mental Health" within "Mind & Brain"). Each channel page shows a featured article, a list of sub-channels, and links to the channel’s unique RSS feed and newsletter.
Departments such as "Blinded by Science", "Jaron's World" and "Vital Signs" are another way that editors can organize site content. Each department has a unique RSS feed, auto-generated by Plone, which enables site visitors to subscribe to keep track of anything new that is published in the department.
For each article, Plone automatically generates a list of related articles. This feature is a great way to help readers find the content that interests them the most and helps to up-sell subscriptions by showing subscriber-only content. Related articles are also an example of "cross-linking", which is especially helpful for search engines to crawl and index older site content, having a dramatic impact on SEO results. In addition, the site editors can manually override the Plone-generated related articles.
The homepage centers on a Flash-based content player that highlights featured articles through high-resolution imagery or streaming videos. Visitors can view the content by clicking on a thumbnail image without ever having to reload the page; essential for quick performance.
Each of the six items featured in the content player is manually chosen by the web editors. The editor browses the site's folder structure for the desired article or video using Plone's content browser.
DISCOVER uses the Brightcove platform to stream videos. Brightcove provides a standard ID for every video uploaded into its network. The web editors can easily enter information about a video into Plone such as its Brightcove ID, title and description. By doing so, the video's description becomes findable by site visitors in Plone's search engine and is available for presentation in the media player.
Web editors can also select any number of articles to appear in the Recent Features list, a "portlet" that provides direct access to articles they want to feature. This portlet appears all throughout the site. Originally, the most recent feature articles on the site were automatically presented by Plone, but the web editors decided that they wanted more granular control. As an open source platform it was possible to make this change within Plone – a change that would not have been possible with a proprietary "closed" system.
DISCOVER's old website housed content dating back to early 1992, and DISCOVER wanted to migrate all 5,000+ articles (including photographs, captions and pullquotes) to the new site.
In DISCOVER's former proprietary CMS, articles were encrypted and compressed. There was no direct way to extract this data, and a script was written against the old CMS's API (Application Programming Interface) to pull each article, one-by-one, out of the system. The content was written into an Excel spreadsheet where the DISCOVER web editors could pick appropriate categorizations for each article. From that spreadsheet, the content was successfully and automatically imported into Plone. The amount of cleanup work that needed to be performed manually was relatively minimal.
The structure of the old site was significantly different than the current site, so rewrite rules were set up to make sure that DISCOVER didn't lose any of the thousands of inbound links from other websites. This was critical to preserve DISCOVER's Google rankings.
Additional Plone Features
One of the reasons DISCOVER chose Plone was the enormous amount of functionality Plone provides out-of-the-box, and the wide assortment of outstanding add-on products such as blogging and polls.
A relevance-based search engine is built right into Plone. As soon as content is submitted to Plone it is indexed and available in the search engine to anybody with permission to see that content. The search engine makes it extremely easy for visitors to find the specific content they want, including print or web articles, podcasts, videos, photo galleries and blog entries. "Live Search" enables the visitor to see search results in real time as keywords are entered into the search field. Advanced search lets the visitor target search results by author, date, content type (blog post, article, photo gallery, etc.), channel and/or sub-channel.
All content in Plone has a visibility state (private, published, draft, etc.) that defines who can see that content. Plone makes it extremely easy to customize the workflow that related to the state of the content. For example, when an article is entered in the DISCOVER website it starts in a "private" state. Authorized editors are allowed to change the state of the article to "published" or to "subscriber-only".
Only subscribers to the print magazine are allowed to see content that is in the "subscriber-only" state. An integration was developed between Plone and DISCOVER's 3rd party subscription management service to enable Plone to know, in real time, if somebody is a valid and active magazine subscriber. Non-subscribers are only able to see a teaser for subscriber-only content, enticing them to become magazine subscribers in order to read the full article.
Throughout the site, website visitors are given the opportunity to subscribe (which would provide instant access to subscriber-only content to the print magazine or to any of several email newsletters.
RSS feeds are available throughout the site, enabling visitors to be instantly notified of changes and new content if they wish. In addition to a general RSS feed, each channel, department and blog has its own feed. Plone automatically generates RSS feeds, a key part of any "Web 2.0" site, out-of-the-box.
Social networking integration with Digg, Reddit and Del.icio.us allows site visitors to easily share their favorite articles with the world, helping to drive significant site traffic (and therefore ad revenue). In fact, these social networking sites are responsible for driving approximately 40% of DISCOVERmagazine.com's total traffic.
DISCOVERmagazine.com also houses several blogs inside of Plone (using the outstanding Quills add-on to Plone) that are accessible from the homepage, where the latest blog entries are aggregated. Each blog has an individual RSS feed and standard blogging features such as permalinks, tags, comments, a blogroll, archives and trackbacks.
Visitors can forward any article to a friend by simply clicking on a small "email" icon. This ubiquitous feature is baked right into Plone and provides a simple way to enhance viral marketing efforts.
Plone's flexible and standard-compliant templating system makes it a snap to print. It automatically creates a standard print template that strips content graphics and other non-text assets.
Plone automatically creates a site map of page links that helps Google and other search engines index the website.
DISCOVER uses Plone's built-in "breadcrumb" functionality to help site visitors understand where they are on the site and navigate their way back.
Automatic Image Resizing
On DISCOVER's website, images associated with articles get used in several different contexts (thumbnails, enlargements, etc.). Plone's built-in image resizing functionality is used to automatically generate all the different image sizes that are needed for a single image. Web editors do not have to enter an image in multiple sizes.
DISCOVER's content editors can place simple polls on the site that are specific to the content on the page. For example, the "Technology" channel could have a poll about content management systems while the "Environment" channel could have a poll about global warming. Real-time poll results are instantly displayed to participants. Poll functionality is a widely supported add-on for Plone.
Photo galleries are a key new feature of the website and DISCOVER's editors can easily add new galleries to illustrate science imagery. The photo gallery add-on to Plone provides for a rich "AJAX" interface for end users and can be configured to display standard slide shows. Photos added into Plone can be found by visitors using the integrated search engine and in "related articles" lists. Plone's "advanced search" allows visitors to filter their searches to only return photos.
Google Analytics integration with Plone is extremely easy to set up and allows DISCOVER management to track and analyze, in real time, the website's performance. DISCOVER can watch site traffic, determine which articles are being read the most, see the results of any marketing campaigns, and get visitor demographic data.
Out-of-the-box, Plone uses 100% standard XHTML and CSS. This means that Plone-based sites are extremely Google friendly (DiscoverMagazine.com's Google ranking is currently 8/10), and Plone sites are relatively easy to make work across different browsers and platforms. The amount of time spent to make sure DISCOVER's website looked correct across different web browser types was relatively small.
Unlike many other CMS platforms, Plone uses search-friendly and keyword-rich URLs such as
This is much better than something like
which tells Google absolutely nothing about what the content might contain. This is critically important for good search engine optimization.
DISCOVERmagazine.com gets a good deal of traffic. On a typical day the site can get between 50,000 and 100,000 page views, and site traffic increased to nearly 800,000 unique visitors the first full month after the launch. At no time has the site approached its performance capacity, and many people have specifically commented on how zippy the site is. In April 2007 an article on the site was "Slashdotted" – a term that refers to a huge influx of web traffic from one or more extremely popular sites (in this case, Slashdot.org itself), causing more than a doubling of the typical site traffic (the site served nearly 150,000 pages in one day.) The site worked beautifully with no discernible loss of performance.
The site runs on two load-balanced standard Linux-based web servers, each of which connects to a third server that houses Plone's object database. Out-of-the-box, Plone is configured for development, not deployment, so some configuration was necessary to get Plone to perform so well. However, in this case it only took a couple of days of work, and involved the deployment of a straightforward, intelligent caching policy. As DISCOVER's traffic grows, it would be very simple to add additional servers behind the load balancer to increase capacity nearly linearly (add twice the servers to get twice the capacity). In fact, pretty much no additional configuration would be necessary to do so, as Plone has distributed deployment capability built right in.
DISCOVER Loves Plone
Plone has greatly increased the efficiency and enhanced the capabilities of DISCOVER Magazine’s online efforts. When asked why they are happy with Plone, DISCOVER management said the reasons are:
It's really easy to learn and use as a writer, editor or publisher
It has a ton of functionality right out-of-the-box
It's built on open source standards that are widely used and deployed, such as Python and Zope, so there are plenty of vendors they can work with
Its prospects for future improvements are outstanding, and it has a very low likelihood of obsolescence
Plone is well-respected in both the technology and publishing communities
It's highly expandable in any way DISCOVER needs. For example, a site visitor posted the printer-friendly version of an article (rather than the regular article page) on Digg, a popular social networking website. This link generated a ton of traffic for the website but the printer-friendly page, by design, does not show any advertisements. In less than one hour, Plone was reconfigured so that if somebody tries to go directly to the printer-friendly version, that person would automatically be redirected to the original article where the revenue generating advertisements are displayed. With a proprietary CMS, this would be very difficult to do, if not impossible, unless the CMS already had this feature.
Since Plone is open source, DISCOVER could spend its project budget on designing, marketing and customizing the system for the specific needs of the magazine, instead of spending it on expensive software licenses
DISCOVER Magazine's experience clearly shows that Plone is ideally suited as a CMS for magazines and similar kinds of websites.
DISCOVER (DISCOVERmagazine.com) is a monthly magazine which covers science, technology and the future: its mission is to deliver science news that feeds the intelligence and fuels the imagination. Founded in 1980, DISCOVER reports on groundbreaking advances in scientific fields from healthcare to space exploration and everything in between, and regularly features today's most innovative and provocative thinkers. DISCOVER magazine, which was purchased from Disney in 2005, is published by Discover Media LLC.
Abstract Edge (AbstractEdge.com) is a boutique creative agency focused on digital marketing strategy, execution and education for media, hospitality and lifestyle brands. Headquartered in New York, Abstract Edge has designed websites on Plone for dozens of companies including Discover Magazine, Atkins Nutritionals, Vera Wang, Octagon, US Youth Soccer and The American Legacy Foundation. Abstract Edge believes that Plone is an ideal CMS to use for magazine and newspaper websites.
Contact Abstract Edge at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-352-9311 for more information.