The Economist’s Transition to Open Source Web Content Management

The Economist

The Economist, the well-known print periodical that covers politics and global affairs from a fairly academic level, has maintained an online presence since 1996. However, until 2008, was regarded as a web-based companion to the print edition that offered some online-exclusive content but was more or less a requisite internet-hub for a journal with an established reputation.

However, in 2008, The Economist made a strategic decision to turn its online component into a more community-driven, content-rich, dynamic forum in which contributors, readers, and guests could shape quality debate about the topics with which the periodical is usually concerned. In order to accomplish this, The Economist had to make bold decisions with its web infrastructure.

First of all, The Economist developers involved in the transition (split across three teams around the globe) had to transition the site away from its proprietary content management system (CMS) and adopt Drupal instead. Drupal was chosen for its ability to handle the scale of changes that would be necessary to make the site more contributor-driven as well as for its comprehensive set of existing modules.

Second, the developers had to choose a methodology for effectively launching the upgraded site in a timely manner. They decided upon Agile project management with Scrum, which typically allows for rapid development that is balanced out with thorough code review and peer collaboration.

Finally, the developers were met with the challenge of transitioning the website in stages so that the legacy CMS could remain partially in place and be iteratively replaced by value-added features of the new system. This meant a change in hosting structure as at first the new features could be delivered via proxy and then gradually moved into sub domains until completion of the new system.

The results of all these efforts have been notable. The modern online version of The Economist is regarded as one of the best examples of Drupal engineering and receives 6.5 million unique visitors worldwide.

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