Penton chooses open source in relaunching websites

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Penton Media kicked off the relaunch of nine websites in its agricultural group—the first step in an ambitious plan to revamp dozens of sites across its various markets in the coming months.

Four regional agricultural sites have already been relaunched: Delta Farm Press, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press. Five other redesigns will be introduced in the coming weeks: BEEF, Corn and Soybean Digest, Farm Industry News, Hay and Forage Grower, and National Hog Farmer.

“These redesigns are far from being merely cosmetic; they have been designed to serve readers, who will be able to quickly access relevant content and solve business problems,” Penton CEO Sharon Rowlands said in a statement.

In an interview, Rowlands said, “When I got here at Penton, we had multiple digital platforms. You name the CMS, we have it.”

The goal of the multimillion-dollar effort is to update Penton's sites in its various markets by making the backend modular and easier to use. To help its internal IT department remake the sites, Penton hired HUGE, a digital agency based in New York.

HUGE's experience in developing user interfaces was important to Rowlands. “Most of their work has been consumer, and I specifically chose them because they were consumer,” she said.

Additionally, Rowlands wanted the massive project to help move the company to a “Web first” publishing strategy. “You're going to see more content written and developed for the Web, rather than magazine content posted to the Web,” she said.

To meet Penton's goals for the website overhauls, Aaron Shapiro, a partner at HUGE, said one of the first considerations was selecting the right CMS system. In the end, Penton chose a Drupal-based system. In addition to selecting Solr, an open source search engine, HUGE and Penton developed a number of custom applications.

The open source platform enabled HUGE and Penton to develop a “very modular, scalable system,” Shapiro said. Those characteristics are important because Penton serves many industries and needed a system capable of allowing editors and publishers to adjust the backend to serve their specific vertical market.

”We put a lot of effort into finding the right taxonomy for the right vertical,” Rowlands said.

”Our goal was to strike a very careful balance between standardization but also giving each editor and publisher the flexibility to be successful,” Shapiro said.

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