Global educational and scientific computing society ACM Inc. has published Communications of the ACM, its flagship monthly magazine, for 50 years. Although it distributed content from the magazine online in various ways electronically, as well as in print, it did not have a dedicated companion Web site for its 90,000-plus members until in March it introduced an online version at cacm.acm.org.
The process of designing and building the site, which included the choosing of a Web content management system (CMS), began last summer.
“We put together a pretty detailed request for proposals, a document of about 20 pages,” said Scott Delman, group publisher of ACM Media Group. The RFP went to about a dozen vendors, half of which had expertise working with open-source systems. “We wanted to get proposals from a mix of companies with different approaches,” Delman said. “We specifically went to software development/design firms with dual expertise in development and Web design work.” He added, “ACM has a definite bias toward working with companies that have open source.”
The open source orientation is not technology-based, however. “ACM is a membership organization, and a large percentage of our members are working in the software industry,” Delman said. “So we have an open-source orientation so as not to show favoritism toward one commercial entity over another.”
Digital Pulp, an interactive agency and design firm in New York, was chosen to lead the design and development of the site.
“Then we went through the requirements-gathering process,” Delman said. “At the other end of that was a recommendation that we use Radiant for the CMS and Ruby on Rails as a distribution platform.”
Because it is a not-for-profit, “keeping costs low is extremely important [for ACM]” Delman said. “With open source, we are able to tap into a large community of software developers who are constantly upgrading the systems and adding new features. Over time, we can pick and choose which of those we want to integrate into our site, so the total cost of development and maintenance is significantly lower as compared to a proprietary system. Although it's hard to quantify exactly, I would say our savings would easily be in the 25% range over the long term.”
Radiant is easy for a nontechnical staff of two full-time people to use, Delman reports. “One of our requirements was to have the ability to update content daily and to have content fed automatically from third-party sites,” he said. “We have content flowing in largely through the use of RSS feeds.”
Another critical need for ACM was the creation of social and community features. “Our association is a network of people working in the fields of computing and IT in a global environment,” Delman said. “It was very important for users to be able to comment and to share content on third-party sites. Open-source software gave us the flexibility to incorporate tools that were already out there.” M