Case Study: Discovering Plone Content Management System (Part 1)

8 minute read
Brice Dunwoodie avatar
Plone Content Management
DISCOVER Magazine, one of the most widely read science mags in the US, had out grown its dated Web Content Management infrastructure for www.discovermagazine.com. Times were changing, multi-media was big and in general Web and CMS technology had moved forward significantly. After analyzing current needs and taking stock of the Web CMS landscape DISCOVER ultimately selected the open source Plone platform. This is a two-part series where we look at the CMS features which convinced DISCOVER to chose Plone.Plone (plone.org) was chosen because of the system's ease-of-use, robust feature set, strong open source community, reduced vendor lock-in, outstanding customizability, standards compliance, reputation, economics, and high performance.

Key Points

* DISCOVER chose Plone for its ease-of-use, robust feature set, strong open source community, reduced vendor lock-in, outstanding customizability, standards compliance, reputation, economics, and high performance.* 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.* Plone’s WYSIWYG editor greatly facilitates the management of the site for non-technical users and enforces design consistency.* Plone automatically generates related articles for each of the thousands of articles on the site. No manual intervention is required.* Video and multi-media content is easily managed* Thousands of articles were successfully and automatically migrated from DISCOVER's old CMS into Plone with no loss of inbound links.

Managing the Website

A major consideration in deploying Plone was the platform's ease-of-use for website editors and content 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.
Diagram: Plone Web Content Management

With a single click, content editors can import an entire issue into PloneArticles 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.
Diagram: Plone Web Content Management

An effective and expiration date can be applied to each article

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.
Diagram: Plone Web Content Management

Editors can manually enter content, such as this articleThe 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.
Diagram: Plone Web Content Management

Plone's WYSIWYG toolbarArticle length can span one or more pages (pagination), and site editors can determine page breaks, text, sidebars, images, and captions.

Organizing Content

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.

Related Articles

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.
Diagram: Plone Web Content Management

Plone automatically generates a list of related articles which the content editors can override

Featured Content

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.
Diagram: Plone Web Content Management

The media player, a mix of AJAX and Flash, dynamically serves content from PloneWeb 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.
Diagram: Plone Web Content Management

Content Editors can select articles, videos, or photo galleries to feature

Content Migration

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.In the second and final article in this series, we will review some of the specific features of the Plone Content Management System, and how DISCOVER has taken advantage of them, as well as how the website performed after the initial project launch.

About the Author

Scott Paley is the CTO at Abstract Edge, 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 Web Content Management System to use for magazine and newspaper websites.