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Choosing an open-source CMS, part 3: Why we use WordPress

February 27, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Quartz covers the world

As Atlantic Media set plans in motion to launch Quartz (QZ.com), a digital publication covering global business news, project engineering director Michael Donohoe took stock of the capabilities needed in the content management system that would power the new site -- and decided on WordPress.

With a limited staff and resources, Donohoe wanted a responsive design that would allow a single codebase to support desktop, tablet and mobile devices. He wanted a platform that would enable the team to build the site from the ground up within four months, that could support Quartz's six different content types and that could provide lots of out-of-the-box capabilities and plug-ins so his team wouldn't need to worry about such things as creating site maps for Google News and general search engines.

WordPress
Quartz is a digital publication covering global business news. It needed a content management system that would be easy for its staff to use.

"With a team of three developers, we didn't have the bandwidth to do a lot of building on the front end," he says. So the idea that WordPress offers more than 21,000 plug-ins was highly attractive. "When you're a small team and you have a lot on your plate, that's a huge bonus," Donohoe explains.

But the biggest driver was WordPress' ease of use for publishing new content, and the fact that many on the editorial side already had experience with WordPress as a blogging tool. "The editors had been bitten by CMSs in the past," he says. WordPress was both friendly and familiar.

"People hate CMSs, but they love WordPress," says Paul Maiorana, director of platform services at Automattic, which was started by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg and operates the WordPress.com hosting service. Automattic was hired to host and support the development of Atlantic Media's new site through WordPress.com VIP, a service designed to host large, enterprise-scale websites.

WordPress' popularity as a blogging platform has raised the bar for Web content publishing even as WordPress has evolved into an enterprise-class CMS, Maiorana says. "Users expect that same level of spit and polish in the workplace as well," he adds.

Donohoe briefly considered the Django CMS framework, which was already in use at Atlantic Media. But Quartz's requirements were very different. "The ramp-up time to set up the framework, do the heavy prototyping and have the site come together didn't meet our aggressive time frame," he says.

He dismissed Drupal after hearing "less positive" feedback from colleagues. "Drupal can be a bit of a mess. It's also more Python-based, and while we do have Python skills in the larger company, we didn't have those in Quartz at the time," he says.

WordPress
The creators of Quartz wanted a responsive design that would allow a single codebase to support desktop, tablet and mobile devices.

Donohoe explains that WordPress' support for HTML5 allowed Quartz to deliver "a defining experience online" without the need to build native apps for each mobile platform or to create separate versions of the site for tablets, mobile devices and personal computers.

"[Quartz] is a good example of what's possible in the WordPress world these days," Maiorana agrees. "The fact that [it] has a single, unified codebase that allows it to reach people on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets as well as desktop computers is pretty compelling. It looks the same no matter what device they're using, there's no duplication of code and you can manage that with a small team."

Yes, he admits, native mobile apps generally run faster. But, he says, "It really depends on what you're trying to do. The Quartz site works amazingly well from my iPhone."

Quartz also leverages WordPress as a JSON API, in addition to using WordPress' templating feature, Donohoe says. In all cases a JavaScript app makes a call to WordPress to get the data and, using client-side templates embedded within that page, renders different views for different screen sizes.

"For any given page we use the same WordPress template," Donohoe explains, "regardless of whether you're hitting the main page, a post, a slideshow, sponsored content, an author archive or tagging pages. As you navigate from one post, you're not loading a new page from the server. We're dynamically generating the content and updating within the same page. In that sense it allows us to have a single-page Web application."

Not everything was easy during the design phase, however. "We couldn't work with the JSON API as it stood. We had to do some workarounds, but we knew that from the beginning," Donohoe says.

His team added several custom fields and post types to WordPress that usually aren't represented in the default API, and integrated output from plug-ins they wrote to manage which categories should be prominently displayed at any given time. "Creating our own API gave us more flexibility where we needed it," he says.

Overall, however, Donohoe is pleased with WordPress. "It comes with a community, you have full access to the code, it's well-documented and it's easier to hire competent developers than with proprietary systems," he says. "The community has been outstanding in terms of enthusiasm, technical proficiency and well-thought-out code examples. We're very excited," he says.



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