All Things Digital

Yesterday evening All Things Digital, a new home for Walt Mossberg, Kara Swisher and John Paczkowski was unleashed on the internet.

All Things Digital

I’ve been working on this for the past month and a half, and it’s been a real whirlwind project. When we got the contract to build the site using WordPress, we were warned that it was an aggressive build schedule.

It was.

And that was before the inevitable scope creep. :)

Luckily there all-star team was in place to make it all happen. In particular the people at Mule Design who created the design and the initial XHTML/CSS template for the site (which are both top notch), Adam Tow who worked on the build portion of the project with me (and really did an outstanding job), Brian Oberkirch who can herd cats with the best of them, the great folks at Automattic who are hosting the site, Raanan Bar-Cohen, Beth Callaghan and the Dow Jones and WSJ teams, and last but certainly not least, the site principals. I really can’t say enough good things about these folks; if any of them hadn’t executed at the highest level, there is no way the site would be live right now.

During the requirements gathering portion of the project, I was very pleased when they asked explicitly for us to implement “Om‘s Share This” plugin. Of course, Om’s plugin is actually my plugin – it’s great to see the plugin and the icon getting traction in such high profile sites.

For those of you who are interested in the technical details, here’s a little high-level about the build itself.

The site is running a single instance of WordPress Multi-User (WPMU), the same software that powers wordpress.com. It is running on several machines, but I’m happy to say I don’t know many of the server configuration details. Barry took care of all of that for us.

All Things Digital isn’t your typical WPMU site. Instead of many separate blogs, we have a single site with lots and lots of content. Yes there are a couple of traditional blogs, but there are also imported WSJ columns (complete with archives), video all over the place, and there is little sense of each blog being a unique site. Quite the opposite, we often pull content from 3 or 4 “blogs”1 into a single page. You don’t see that happening a lot on a standard wordpress.com blog.

We actually vacillated a little between using WPMU and a single user WordPress (WPSU) installation. It’s easier to access data globally from a WPSU installation, but creating the appearance of multiple blogs (like I do on this site) requires some complicated category manipulation, and it doesn’t have separate admin interfaces for each “blog”, which is helpful when you have multiple authors each working on their own individual content. When we made the choice to go with WPMU we weren’t sure if we were making the right decision, but with the benefit of hindsight I’m quite confident we made the right choice.

I’m not sure how often WPMU has been used in this manner (pulling content from multiple blogs for a single site) in the past, but I do know that it will be a lot easier in the future. Donncha did some great optimizations to make it faster to access content from other “blogs” in WPMU while we were building out the site. Thanks to the beauty of open source, everyone benefits.

The fact we were able to do all of our extensive customizations in themes and plugins is a testament to WordPress’s flexibility (and to Adam’s and my creativity ;) ). No core changes means easy upgrades and maintenance – always a good thing.

This was a fun and challenging site to build, and there are plenty more great ideas planned for the future. I look forward to watching the great content pour in from Walt, Kara, John and the guest bloggers.

  1. I’m using ‘blog’ as a general term to refer to both the blogs and columns on the site, since they are stored in the database in the same way. [back]