On the night of June 23rd, Telegraph Media flicked the switch on a new project they’ve been working on this Spring – the Telegraph Blogs, relaunched on WordPress MU.
And, proudly, we’d like to say we had a little bit to do with the project. Not a lot, mind – we provided some consultancy, some code snippets, advice and developer support now and then. It’s the kind of project we’d have loved to have taken on in full, but the in-house team at the Telegraph were perfectly capable of doing the work and we always say that if you have the in-house skills then you shouldn’t spend a small fortune on external consultants and developers.
The site is a fairly typical MU implementation, but with a few interesting tweaks in the way, they’ve configured. Instead of giving each journalist their own blog, they’ve understood that some simply won’t be that active. Instead, authors tend towards having a category of their own to work with. So if you go to Shane Richmond’s blog, for instance, you’re actually seeing the Author Archive view that WordPress provides, within the general Technology Blog.
In fact, the flexibility of WordPress, the way you can output content differently according to category or author, all helped to contribute towards creating a platform that Telegraph Media feel they can grow with.
One of the key things to think about with media blogs like this is that traffic can be astonishing. A lot of questions were asked early on about scalability and performance in WordPress. Because it’s a purely dynamic system, running more like an application than a group of static files, different approaches have to be taken with caching and performance. The database server is one key area that always needs consideration – especially when you have to consider 200 concurrent users.
One interesting lesson learned is that with WordPress you have to be exceptionally careful about go-live processes. Our standard process is to run two installs – one for pre-production and one for live. There is never a beta running that suddenly finds itself running on a different domain name.
At the Telegraph we know that the way they did it was to run a beta on a subdomain prior to running a search and replace script (not sure if it was one of our own developer’s PHP database search and replace scripts that we use for migrations) and then point the domains right over to it. That resulted in poor performance initially, even though load testing had confirmed everything to be OK. Consequently, the go-live was held back for a few days, but once WordPress had settled down performance picked up markedly. The issue appears to be to do with cached variables not resetting on the move. We’ll document our low-hassle approach to migrating WordPress installs shortly on this site.
Well, we can’t talk about what will happen at Telegraph Media in the future, but what we do see is increased interest in WordPress as a blogging tool for newspapers. But beyond that it’s even more interesting – some groups like Informa Telecoms & Media are starting to use WordPress as complete news platforms. For Informa we built the Telecoms.com site almost entirely from WordPress – this not only led to increased journalistic productivity but increased traffic and reader engagement. Seeing the comments section slowly spring to life as readers started to understand its potential has been a real joy to see.
We imagine that it will be magazines and local newspapers that make the first moves to WordPress as a news platform, but when will the first national do it? We’d like to be there for them if they make the leap! WordPress is fully capable thanks, in no part, to some of the excellent work in turning WP into what is essentially framework by Donncha O’Caoimh, a WordPress core developer, and others on the WordPress.org team.
If the interest in The Telegraph’s move by such important figures as Kevin Anderson at the Guardian, Simon Dickson (a WordPress friendly rival who specialises in e-Government sites), and others is anything to go by then WordPress is booming in the news sector. Good!