Posted: May 10th, 2012 | Author: Patrick Thornton | Filed under: Notes | Tags: Chorus, content management systems, The Verge, Vox Media | 1 Comment »
TechCrunch writes a love letter about Vox Media’s content management system Chorus, and who can blame the, it sounds like the best CMS I’ve ever heard of:
Christened with the new name last month, the four year-old platform is now much more than a CMS. It comes with nearly every tool that’s needed for publishing, all tightly connected. And it’s already powering hundreds of SB Nation sports fan sites around the country, plus our gadget-oriented pseudo-competitors over at The Verge, forthcoming gaming site Polygon, and whatever else Vox decides to launch (I’ve heard there’s one coming about cars, for example).
I’ve used a lot of CMSes in my day. None sound nearly this good. Joshua Topolsky described The Verge’s CMS as a living, breathing Web app that is ongoing continuos development. I’ve never seen a publication talk about their CMS like that before, nor have I seen top editors care so deeply about their CMS.
Top editors should care. The quality of a CMS can greatly impact the quality of a website. What makes Chorus so interesting is not only does it support virtually unheard of features such as layout functionality (look at how The Verge’s posts are unique compared to other news sites and can change from one post to the next), but it also combines story assignment and management with writing.
It’s one Web app that seeks to manage the entire editorial workflow. Nothing else is like this. For an editorial website, this is a huge competitive advantage that should allow them to produce more stories by reducing some of the management overhead needed for managing the story creation and editing process.
WordPress was the only CMS that I have enjoyed and thought was well built. It feels like it was built by people who were trying to make a product that they would actually use. You don’t want a CMS from a bunch consultants who have never worked in your industry or cared about it.
WordPress is very malleable and with its plugin system, companies can create fairly unique installations of it. But if you can have the money and time, developing your own custom platform may give your company a competitive advantage.
Usually, I would reocmmend staying away from a proprietary CMS like Chorus. Open source usually ends up better in the long run because of better support, future development and a larger community of developers around the platform. This advice, however, does not apply if you are actvely developing and interating on your own CMS and willing to invest significant ongoing development resources into it.
What Vox appears to have built is a CMS that fits their needs perfectly, in a way that neither an open source CMS nor a proprietary one from a vender could. When I look at The Verge compared with TechCrunch, Mashable, Engadget and other tech sites, I see a unique site. The Verge stands out with its story streams, advanced commenting controls, unique layouts for stories, advanced ways of navigating stories and other features.
If managing content is a major part of what your company does, and you’re a large enough company, perhaps it does make sense to invest in developing your own platform. When you develop your own platform, your programmers and content creators can work together to create a platform that fits your exact needs:
“We don’t throw things over the fence,” explains Trei Brundrett, the company’s vice president of product and technology. “We map our development plan around the tools that our editorial and advertising teams tell us they need, and then rapidly evolve the product based on data and feedback.”
As odd as this sounds, that’s not how things usually work at journalism organizations.
Posted: January 10th, 2012 | Author: Patrick Thornton | Filed under: Main | Tags: content management system, design, innovation, The Verge, Washington Post | 3 Comments »
Can you innovate too fast? That’s what the Washington Post’s ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton wants to know:
One of the things that surprised and heartened me when I came to The Post 10 months ago was the tremendous amount of innovation going on.
Hardly a week goes by without the Web site or newspaper launching some feature, or a venture to attract more revenue, or a blog, or a social media innovation. Just since I have been here, The Post has redesigned its Web site; installed a new content management system; pioneered the Facebook social reader, which tracks and announces what your Facebook friends are reading; added a team of policy bloggers to Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog; revised its comment system for readers; added a ton more news videos online; started The Root DC, a site aimed at African American readers; and probably about 10 other things I can’t remember.
The answer to innovating too fast really depends on your position as a company. If you’re a dominate company, racking in profits, perhaps spending too much time and money on new stuff would be a mistake. Targeted R&D in the Apple mold produces better results than the spaghetti-on-the-wall R&D of Google. But there isn’t a newspaper company that is an Apple or a Google.
If you are a company in a besieged industry that is rapidly disappearing, I don’t think it’s possible to innovate too fast. Does anyone really think that the newspaper industry is in the situation it is in today because it innovated too fast?
But it is important to draw a distinction between new initiatives and innovation. Thus the proper questions are, “Are the new initiatives we are trying the correct ones? Are we spending our time wisely? Do we have the proper setup to ensure innovation?”
The Washington Post and many other news organizations are certainly trying a lot of new things. I wouldn’t call that innovation. New initiatives that resonate with users, drive traffic and ultimately help a news organization make money (and thus employ staffers) should be considered innovation. New initiatives that push journalism forward should be considered innovation and ultimately encouraged.
By this measure, I would say the Post and other news organizations need a lot more innovation. Particularly missing right now is innovation on the business model front. While The New York Times has been experimenting with different ways to make money, most notably its pay meter, I don’t recall any serious initiatives from the Post when it comes to business models. That’s innovation that the Post could sorely use.
Pexton does cite that several Post users complain that washingtonpost.com is becoming cluttered. I think that’s a fair point. I find Washington Post story pages to be distracting and hard to read (almost built for Instapaper and Reader to declutter them). This isn’t due to too much innovation, but rather far too little restraint.
This is an issue afflicting most legacy news organizations. The experience of focusing on and enjoying an individual story is rapidly disappearing beneath an avalanche of chrome: social media widgets, ads that are far too distracting and rarely relevant, polls that are unrelated to the story at hand, links to unrelated content on the site, newsletter signups, etc, etc.
My guess is that Pexton, and the employees at the Post agreeing with him, haven’t thought too deeply about what innovation at a news organization looks like. I’d suggest they check out the new tech news site The Verge. They have real innovation like story streams that allow them to create micro-blogs for big, ongoing stories. Their reviews feature layout and typography that makes them feel more like an interactive magazine spread, complete with very high-caliber video reviews and charts.
While the Post may have rolled out a new content management system and design (the site doesn’t look or feel much different to me, the end user), you can tell The Verge has a CMS unlike what traditional news outlets have. The site looks and feels different to end users. It’s what innovation feels like.
Perhaps Pexton should ask his colleagues why the Post’s website doesn’t look and feel nearly as a good as The Verge. There is no good reason it doesn’t.