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Published

Building Online Communities: …

Building Online Communities:

Following the phenomenal response to E4 experiments on social networking sites, Channel 4 decided to create their own community website. With E4, the UK’s leading youth entertainment television channel, they saw a huge opportunity
to create an online community; building interest, loyalty and additional revenue paths. In less than 6 months Channel 4,
partnering with ThoughtWorks, made it happen.

Published in Technology
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  • 1. Building Online Communities Following the phenomenal response to E4 experiments on social networking sites, Channel 4 decided to create their own community website. With E4, the UK’s leading youth entertainment television channel, they saw a huge opportunity to create an online community; building interest, loyalty and additional revenue paths. In less than 6 months Channel 4, The Benefits partnering with ThoughtWorks, made it happen. Fast. ThoughtWorks’ Agile approach helped Channel 4 meet the non-negotiable The Client launch date. Channel 4 is one of the UK’s leading TV broadcasters. Channel 4 also operates a number of other Lightweight. The use of services, including the digital TV channels E4, More4 and Film4, and an ever-growing range of RESTful development online activities at channel4.com. Watched by over seven million viewers in the coveted 16-34 age principles enabled the bracket every month, E4 is one of the strongest media brands among this audience group. whole site to be remarkably lightweight and low-cost. User-friendly. A domain The Situation specific language technique Channel 4 envisioned an online community website to engage, excite and grow its E4 audience. allows easy dynamic Building an active community formed part of a broader business objective to build loyalty and deliver page-building by editors. new revenue streams online. They knew they could provide unique and relevant content to their Realistic. The team was audience, including episode trailers, programme contests and more; complementary to rather than able to deliver unplanned competitive with popular sites such as YouTube and Facebook. functionality in response to critical, late-breaking requirements. “ThoughtWorks’ focus, frankness, commitment Integrated. The CMS integration keeps content and unique way of collaborating and communicating for individual TV programmes updated all made a big difference to the success of the on-the-fly, meeting user project – a refreshing partnership.” expectations for a fully integrated experience James Tatam, E4.com Business Manager between TV and web. thoughtworks.com
  • 2. Building Online Communities The Challenge Working Towards A Solution Challenges came at the team from several directions. The project ThoughtWorks headed a combined project team that included had a strict timetable to support the new season marketing third party experts on site design, and collaborated closely with launch of one of the channel’s most popular programmes. the client every step of the way. The E4 team was overflowing The site needed to be online in just six months. ThoughtWorks with ideas and enthusiasm for what they wanted to achieve and Channel 4 explored the vision together with a design partner, during the kick-off (our Inception phase). ThoughtWorks, leading then ThoughtWorks took on delivery responsibility and developed the team according to Agile principles, helped them focus on a a working site in just twelve weeks. The short conception to set of functionality for the initial release which would deliver value launch timeframe was also driven by the tight payback period for to the site’s users and the business. the project, which had to be fulfilled by the end of 2008. After Inception, the team, up to 40 people strong, used Open The key technical challenges were around performance and Source libraries to supplement the Java build. The RESTful scalability, and the many external integration points. The project architecture leverages the massive investment in the web’s had to work around restrictions on hardware; both storage infrastructure over the years, relying on the Internet Cache Protocol and server capacity was limited and would be shared with other to enable load handling with minimal hardware. The whole site Channel 4 sites. And yet, as a community interaction site, is backed by just 4 servers, which are shared with other sites. performance had to be responsive and scalable, as success The site handles 1000 read requests per second, as well as depended on it being easy and fun for users. Lots of users. 60-70 write requests per second. The site also needed complex integration with ten different Innovative means of addressing the technical challenges turned external system interfaces, most notably the content out to provide side benefits. For example, integration with the management system. content management system was handled by creating a Query Module, a kind of URL domain specific language, which allows “We needed a partner who could editors to build pages by simply specifying URLs for each page element. The Query Module automatically generates the demonstrate proven credentials in requested summary, or representative content. The specific page this particular type of project, is created on the fly- meaning it is always up-to-date. Many different views can be created of the same content, but content provide a robust development team storage is not duplicated. and had the ability to innovate and Finally, Channel 4 commissioned a third party specialist to test be creative around the challenges for security weakness, who was challenged by Channel 4’s – we felt that ThoughtWorks met all in-house expert to break the site, but was unsuccessful: “Despite the reward of a slap-up meal at Mrs Miggins’ pie shop if of these requirements.” he broke it, it could not be done” – Martyn Lewis, Channel 4 IT James Tatam, E4.com Business Manager security and disaster recovery manager. thoughtworks.com
  • 3. Building Online Communities The Future The site went live on schedule, and is now a community space for This means that the delivery team, although physically split E4 programme fans containing unique content (such as trailers between ThoughtWorks in Pune and Channel 4 in London, can for up-coming episodes) and opportunities for viewer participation keep collaborating and delivering high value functionality to (such as programme-related contests). The site enables user the business; they have already released updates such as generated content, commenting and voting – focusing on users advertising innovations and games since the main site went live. who want to participate in the site rather than just consume it. This approach attempts to draw the passive visitor into active community involvement, and so regular visits. Automated “The relationships we have built, moderation processes make it all more manageable for the client. the communications and processes Following the main release, the Channel 4 team began working established, the transition from with ThoughtWorks’ team in Pune, India. The offshore team has since produced numerous releases, with enhancements to the London team and ramp up of support the site goals into 2009. The transition was managed the Pune team and, in particular, by Technical Leads from the UK taking a ‘seeding’ visit: they spent several weeks working together with the Pune team the productivity and quality of and Channel 4 on the backlog to ensure that all parties fully the deliverables have all exceeded understood the architecture and domain. This process, along my expectations.” with key members of the Pune delivery team visiting Channel 4 in the UK, meant that the handover was smooth and team James Tatam, E4.com Business Manager effectiveness maintained. Channel 4 decision makers attend release kick offs in Pune ThoughtWorks is a registered trademark of ThoughtWorks, Inc. to maintain close working relationships and cross pollination All other brand names, product names, or trademarks of ideas. The day-to-day contact is managed through daily belong to their respective holders. conference call stand ups, videoconference, webex and skype. © 2008 ThoughtWorks, Inc. All rights reserved. thoughtworks.com