From the Trenches Part 2 - Technology Changes and Challenges

By Paul Hyland — August 18, 2005 3 min read
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Education Week has a long history of providing comprehensive and innovative Web services to our readers. I recently joined the organization as the Web Technology Lead, a new position. In my short time here, I see a lot that impresses me, and I also see a plenty of room for improvement. I have an interest in making sure that we have the resources to continue to provide both top-notch content and quality service to our readers.

Like many other newspaper and magazine publishers, we have grappled with creating viable business models to maintain and expand these services in the face of changing market realities. While I’ve been involved in the Internet and online information industry for many years, my role here is on the technical rather than business side, so I will explore the affects of these challenges on our technology and vice versa.As has already been discussed in this space, we plan to require a paid subscription to access portions of our site, in order to accomplish these goals. This is presumed to lead to a decline in our readership, at least initially. In order to mitigate the impact of this traffic reduction on our advertising revenue, we plan to increase the number of advertisements on most of our pages.

I have a background in usability and consistent user interface design, so I want to ensure that we don’t sacrifice the user experience by devoting too much of our space to promotional and advertising content. Until now a portion of each screen has been dedicated to promotional uses, but given the increasing space used by advertising, we may want to reconsider such rigid divisions, so that our pages are as cohesive as possible, and that editorial content is not overwhelmed by promotional and advertising content.

The development process to implement these changes has required managing relationships with numerous other firms. This includes the company that handles our recently introduced registration system, and the company that manages our print subscription process – as well as interactions between these two firms. In-house software development and testing requirements involve our Web-hosting provider in the planning and implementation process as well.

In an unforeseen move, our Web services vendor recently decided to change co-location facilities, moving all of our servers to a new facility, at the same time as we’re performing all of this development and testing. In order to reduce the risk of outages during or after our subscription rollout, we opted to have our facilities moved at the earliest possible time. It turned out to be a painful but necessary move; it took this firm several weeks to restore all of our servers and services. We finally have everything back online – hopefully in a more reliable state - well before the launch of our new restrictions, and we hope our readers will forget about any glitches or outages by then.

We want to make sure that we continue to improve our reliability and timeliness, to deliver new services and expand existing ones, and to keep up with technological developments that could provide added value to our readers. A list of projects that we are currently working on includes:

· Additional newsletters;
· More blogs and related technology;
· The introduction of RSS feeds;
· Improved search functionality and capabilities;
· More multimedia content;
· Other things we haven’t even thought of yet.

I welcome your feedback. Tell me what you like (and don’t like) about the way our Web site works, along with your ideas for better ways to use technologies, provide content, and provide interesting ways for you to interact with our service, our contributors, and each other. I look forward to our journey together into this brave new world.

Paul Hyland
Web Technology Lead
Editorial Projects in Education

A version of this news article first appeared in the Behind the Scenes blog.