IDG Consumer & SMB, which publishes PCWorld, Macworld and the TechHive blog, is in the process of reworking its content management system. The new CMS—officially launching in the third quarter—uses HTML5 and CSS 3, which enable the website to automatically adapt to whatever device is being used to access it. Digital Directions discussed the approach to the new CMS with Aaron Jones, CTO at IDG Consumer & SMB.
Digital Directions: What is the previous system used at IDG Consumer & SMB?
Aaron Jones: We are on top of a homegrown system that has evolved over the years in various iterations. Right now we're running on top of a Java Struts II stack and a bunch of other custom stuff and open-source packages.
DD: What is the reason for building the new CMS?
Jones: The original system we were running on was essentially built for a single site. When I started here, I was running PCWorld only. Over time we brought Macworld in. Now, we're bringing up a third, which is TechHive, and that (previous) approach became untenable just from a resource-allocation standpoint and efficiency standpoint. So we decided to do a little bit of rethink and do some ground-up work that allows us to take advantage of a lot of the work we put in before. But we rearchitected the database and the system so we can work with one core system.
DD: The new CMS incorporates HTML5 and CSS 3. What advantages do those offer?
Jones: We wanted to have a content management system that was able to deliver across everything. HTML5 to me is kind of a no-brainer. If you're building anything new at this point, you should not be considering anything else as far as I'm concerned. Now with the responsive approach, certainly there's some argument as to whether that makes sense or not. But we feel that a lot of the techniques in responsive design allow us to be more efficient. Responsive design uses CSS 3 media queries and a kind of flexible, fluid grid (where) you can write a single document and it will adjust to content on that page based on the device that comes in.
DD: You ultimately built the new system based primarily on Java. What drove that decision?
Jones: I believe you can use any tool. There are some tools that are better for some projects and others for other projects. The key reason that we used Java here is because we've been using Java, so we have a lot of expertise. It didn't make a lot of sense for us to move to something else.
DD: What advice do you offer other media companies contemplating new content management systems?
Jones: You have to look at your business and the peculiarities of your business. If there are some open-source platforms out there, use them. Look for what works for you. Even if the sell is “it works out of the box,” don't believe that for a minute because you're going to want to customize that system. Don't expect a silver bullet just by implementing a new content management system—that everything is going to be perfect. Content management systems require constant evolution; and they require investment and time. And from my perspective, you should invest in good people first and foremost.