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Jack Margo, Chuck Lin, Ziff Davis Enterprise

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In March, Ziff Davis Enterprise launched an ambitious new community site called eWeek Labs (labs.eweek.com). The site mixes product reviews from analysts with reviews from enterprise IT professionals.

Ultimately, the site is intended to build an online community for IT professionals. Digital Directions spoke with Jack Margo, senior VP-Internet operations at Ziff Davis Enterprise, and Chuck Lin, director of Labs.eWeek, about how they built the site and their choice of open source platforms.

DD: How difficult was it building this site?

Lin: We actually built the site twice using an open-source framework. We wanted to stay with open source for a few reasons. No. 1 being, it's cheap to do. It's an inexpensive way to do something, and it can be brought to market much quicker. The first platform we built was on Joomla. We actually built out a prototype with Joomla, but then we went back and decided to use WordPress. We used Joomla initially because we use it on other Ziff Davis sites.

Margo: For most of our sites [Joomla] works really well; but most of our sites are not community sites. In building out the eWeek Labs' concept, we looked at different CMS systems to work off of as the base. We examined Drupal, Joomla, WordPress and several others. The reasons we looked at Joomla is because 90% of Ziff products use a customized version of Joomla. But when we examined what the use case would be both as an editorial platform and as a collaborative platform for our enterprise users, we decided the best thing would be to use WordPress. We chose it for various reasons. One reason is that it has a thriving open-source community around it. When it came to writing custom applications for the Labs.eWeek sites, we could turn to the open source community, which has probably already created some of the community and aggregation elements we'd need.

DD: Why the shift to WordPress?

Lin: Joomla is a much bigger platform, and so the code was a little bit harder to work with. Joomla is intended to help build Web sites, and this was going to be a community-oriented Web site and not a company-maintained Web site. We're trying to build a site around community, and WordPress has a lot more of that to it. It's a blog built to have multiusers.

DD: What specifically did you like about WordPress?

Lin: With WordPress, there are some good and bad things. WordPress is not as object-oriented as Joomla. Some programmers say that's a bad thing; but, because it's not as object-oriented as Joomla, [WordPress] allowed us to access content and data that were part of WordPress much quicker and much earlier. It made the process a lot faster. Pretty much everyone we showed the site to asked what platform it was built on. When we tell them it's WordPress, they couldn't believe it.

DD: How long did the entire process take?

Margo: It's not easy to say. While the code was being written, other projects were going on. From initial concept to the launch to the public was probably about nine months, but actual work on the site was probably about four months.

DD: What are you most proud of regarding this project?

Lin: One of the things I'm happiest about is actually the look of the design. We were looking forward to the [Apple] iPad. We made sure we're not using [Adobe Systems'] Flash; we're using proper HTML. One of the things I'm most happy about today is how great it looks on the iPad.

DD: What do you think the process says about open source?

Margo: It's a testament to the power of open source and what a good foundation it can bring to the table. You can buy community stuff off the shelf, but why would you do that, adding costs, when you have this [open source]?

DD: How many developers worked on the project?

Margo Between one-and-a-half and two. We have a business to run, so it was like changing the wheels on the bus while the bus is still rolling. Labs.eWeek is not a static site. The beauty of the framework that we built makes it easily extensible. We will be adding features every month.

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