CASE STUDYIn-Fisherman.com Presented By 5755 North Point Pkwy – 60 Alpharetta, GA 30022 P 678.580.1690 F 770.360.5776 www.mediacurrent.com
ABSTRACTMediacurrent collaborated with InterMedia Outdoors, Inc. to redesign their family of interactive websitesusing the Drupal content management system as a foundation. This required the migration andrestructuring of content from several websites hosted by a legacy content management system (CMS.)The result was a fresh, modern web design and a social network that allowed Intermedia’s users toaccess a vast repository of content quickly and easily.COMPANY PROFILEInterMedia Outdoors, Inc. (IMO), is the leading multimedia company serving the needs of outdoorsenthusiasts. The IMO brand boasts the largest network of websites (16 total) dedicated to hunting,shooting and fishing; a portfolio of 15 magazines including powerful brands such as In-Fisherman, FloridaSportsman, Guns & Ammo, Petersen’s Hunting, and Fly Fisherman; 25 market-leading televisionproductions; 2 syndicated radio shows; 200+ hours of television programming and one television network– The Sportsman Channel. InterMedia Outdoors serves the interests of 80 million devoted sportsmen inthe pursuit of their passions.CHALLENGEIn-Fisherman.com is the premier online destination for anglers worldwide. The site serves to complementthe print magazine In-fisherman, a 30 year staple in the outdoor publishing industry. In-Fisherman.comwas initially built using a proprietary CMS that was inflexible and troublesome to customize - featuressuch as social networking and tagging were difficult and time consuming to implement. However, thesechallenges played into the strength of Drupal.The aggregate site traffic of IMO’s portfolio of sites reached nearly 100 million page views during the first6 months of 2008, and numbers continued to climb. More specifically, the In-Fisherman.com site
averages 67,789 user visits, 266,379 page visits, and an average of 4:1 page visits/user visits in a typicalmonth. Thus, scalability was at top of mind throughout the project.WHY DRUPAL?The decision for IMO to use Drupal came after an unsuccessful attempt to build out In-Fisherman.comwith another CMS. The deciding factors for selecting Drupal were: Scalability - Drupal was perceived as the most scalable and extensible open source option. Cost - No licensing fees. Multi-site / multi-database architecture - Drupal’s flexible multi-site configuration would allow IMO to store content and user data in multiple databases for a single site. Multiple databases would keep distinct areas of the site operational in the event of database failure from server load. The user data is stored in its own database and the gear/angler/www sites are set-up to seamlessly pull user data from that separate database. Hosting - The expected traffic for the site demanded a low-cost enterprise level hosting environment. Drupal and the LAMP stack were a natural fit. Flexibility - IMO’s previous CMS was inflexible, making it difficult to implement new and innovative features. Drupal’s modular framework, API and theme override capabilities made it the top choice. Theme customization - Drupal’s separation of presentation and business logic through the theme layer allowed the In-Fisherman.com UI to undergo significant revisions during and after development. Active development community - A fragile economy encouraged open source software vs. a proprietary vendor solution. IMO was looking for a community with solid leadership and momentum. In addition, the Mediacurrent offices were local to the project stakeholders and allowed for enhanced interaction.GOALSIn our initial planning sessions, several primary goals were indentified. The most important successfactors included:1) Usability – Create an engaging web experience for users by leveraging IMO’s vast repository of sportsman-related content and video. The new site functionality would take user participation to a new level.2) Branding – Provide a more modern, contemporary look and feel that reinforced the magazine brand.3) Content – Give anglers the ability to quickly find the information they’re seeking by using a well defined taxonomy structure and lists of articles tailored toward a user’s individual preferences. This needed to work for both anonymous and registered users. The objective was based on articles the user has previously visited as well as interests specified in a registered user’s profile.4) Scalability – Build with scalability in mind. IMO has several high traffic sites in their corporate umbrella. Careful consideration needed to be given to scaling, isolating points of failure and configuring the site to fail “gracefully.”
HOSTING ARCHITECTUREIn-Fisherman.com needed to handle thousands of page views per day. The hosting environment requiredthe ability to balance anonymous page requests, authenticated page requests and traffic spikeseffectively. IMO’s system administrator spent months of research, planning, and devising an internalhosting infrastructure that was enterprise caliber. The hosting architecture consists of a series of shuttleservers storing cached content, a file server and a dual database cluster. Page requests are routedthrough a Cisco Load Balancer. The balancer identifies a shuttle server that’s “open” for serving the inputbased on the number of requests it’s processing at that time. Stress tests on the enterprise serverarchitecture proved that Drupal was more than capable of handling. The idea of using memcache orXcache was tossed around, but abandoned in the end, because the hosting environment’s performancetesting exceeded requirements.DEVELOPMENT PROCESSIMO’s team developed the initial requirements document, which was beneficial. Mediacurrent adopted anAgile methodology for developing the site. A team of 2-6 developers simultaneously worked inconjunction with IMO’s management team throughout the process. Development progress was trackedthrough the open-source project management tool called Active Collab, and its web-based ticketingsystem. Active Collab’s commenting feature helped the Mediacurrent team collaborate effectively. Thereis no shortage of other project management tools out there, but for what it is worth we felt Active Collabfulfilled our needs. Overall, task management and dialogue between IMO and Mediacurrent was primarilyhandled by a project manager, and frequent updates were exchanged on a daily basis. Weekly stand upcalls with IMO stakeholders provided an opportunity for more formal question and answers, and forvaluable debriefing time.DESIGN AND THEMINGIntermedia Outdoors tapped a New York-based agency to create the user interface design for the sitemonths before Mediacurrent started site development. Mediacurrent chose the Zen theme to adapt theIn-Fisherman.com design. The Zen theme dramatically cut design time. As requirements shifted, the
highly relevant CSS structure of the Zen theme allowed for impromptu changes to the UI without breakingpage layouts. Mediacurrent also built several custom modules to streamline theming.The custom content module was used in place of Panels (at the time Panels 6.x was not recommendedfor production use). This allowed for complex content presentation on the front page and species channelpages. Several custom Flash-related modules were written to provide XML data to Flash widgets acrossthe site. These modules create XML data based on taxonomy. Mediacurrent’s final theme was extensibleand flexible enough to withstand numerous IMO design changes just before the site’s alpha release.SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES AND SOLUTIONSAs with almost any sizable enterprise site there were some challenges to overcome. The most notableincluded: Timeline – Developing 3-4 enterprise class sites in a compressed timeframe (5 or 6 months). Limited information architecture specifications – Project stakeholders met often to discuss items such as data query logic for blocks and layout format of node edit pages. The use of a ticketing system helped the process tremendously. Multiple themers – With several developers involved in theming, the team needed to coordinate everyone’s efforts. Team members notified each other via IM whenever new CSS classes were created so as not to duplicate effort. Search - For a general site searching, the Google Search Appliance (GSA) was used. Mediacurrent had to modify it according to client requirements, which called for sorting by criteria unavailable in the standard GSA. The solution was to limit the number of results, which were then reordered if the default sorting was not used. Mediacurrent also added a theme function so the result set would match the user interface design. Sharing Data across multiple domains – The In-Fisherman.com site uses several databases to support high-volume traffic. The technique used relied heavily on Drupal’s multi-site configuration. Drupal points to a particular database, based on the subdomain of the URL. This posed a problem for blocks that presented data across multiple subdomains. IMO didn’t want to make database calls from one subdomain to another. To solve this, Mediacurrent created a set of modules that would “flatten” a block’s content to a serialized array and store it in a flat file. Thus, block content on one subdomain could be read by another subdomain without a database request. Another challenge of multiple domains is making Drupal’s menu system point to the correct domain when routing a page request, without having to use absolute URL’s. Mediacurrent created the Multidomain to pass navigation and /user paths through a custom_url_rewrite_outbound() function. A switch statement in the function assigns the correct domain for a given path. Without this module, absolute URL paths would have to be written everywhere to accommodate multiple domains. Optimization of multipage nodes – The article content type needed to present up to 6 pages of content. Mediacurrent decided that the pagination module would not meet IMO’s specific requirements. Our development team employed multipage articles, using a combination of theme overrides in template.php and customization in the node.tpl file. For search engine optimization, the article URL’s needed a page number appended to the path instead of appended to a query string. This was challenging because Drupal perceived the additional argument as a new path alias. The development team wrote a custom module to intercept the clean URL and detect a page number at the end. The page number is stored and Drupal redirects to the node page.
Profanity Input Filter: This provides rudimentary, context-based input filtering via a modifiable set ofrules. Site administrators can insert custom string rules of prohibited content. The module then replacesthe prohibited strings with asterisks.Fish Profile: Adds radio button-based fields to the profile form and reorganizes the fields.Gear Related Articles Export: Saves block data to a flat file for use by blocks in other subdomainsthereby reducing cross domain database calls.IMO import Fix: A helper module that assists in correcting file paths, taxonomy assignments and stringreplacements during the article import process.In-Fisherman Form Alters: Handles all form alter logic for In-Fisherman.com.Multidomain: Manages the subdomain links for a multi-site Drupal install.Node Process: Processes node page calls, allowing nodes to have multiple pagesProfanity Input Filter: Provides an input that can filter profane words or phrases based on a set of rules.Solunar Month: The In-Fisherman site provides solunar calendars, which provide the best lunar fishingphase in any given month. This module supplies the solunar_month content type for the calendar. CCKcouldn’t be utilized because the number of fields required by this content type consistently maxed outPHP’s memory allocation when loading the node edit form. The module also supplies a dynamic XMLmenu item for a given month and year together.WWW Advanced Search: Generates an advanced search form page, containing category-based filters.TRAINING/DOCUMENTATIONDocumentation was implemented using a Drupal intranet that could be referenced and updated by IMOstaff, while development was simultaneously taking place. The online nature of the documentationenhances knowledge transfer and allows for commenting, interaction, and help updates far faster thantraditional methods.The site uses the book module to organize topics in a “tree” structure. A tagging scheme allowed helptopics to be displayed by subject. A WYSIWYG editor (FCKeditor) makes editing easy and efficient forneophyte staffers and provides easy uploading of screen grabs. Terms and concepts between helparticles were extensively hyperlinked, allowing users of all skill levels to drill down to the appropriate levelof detail.The documentation was written with the layman in mind (i.e. new user/developer to Drupal). This is moredifficult than it sounds, because as developers get more entrenched in the project, they tend to forget theissues that stymie beginners. The availability of content in a web environment was seen as being morebeneficial and user-friendly than a traditional training manual in paper or PDF form.Each help topic was summarized, then interviews were conducted by the documentation specialist todetermine the details of module dependencies and logic flow.
LESSON LEARNED…FOR THE NEXT TIMEHere are some takeaways from the project for developers and corporations (especially publishers) whoare contemplating Drupal for a sizable implementation:1) Break the project down into chunks – there were are a lot of moving parts and concepts; keep the core group of stakeholders as small as possible to streamline decision-making.2) Use a proven recipe of modules – although we did a lot, avoid customization whenever possible.3) Acquire original source code from all third-party front-end widget developers as soon as possible. Upon receipt, immediately test to verify Drupal is “talking” to the widget correctly and vice-versa.4) Orient designers on the “Drupal way” and overall theming best practices. Have your development team review designs during the creative phase to ensure the designs reflect features and functionality established by the selected module set.ABOUT USMediacurrent is an Atlanta, Georgia based interactive firm that has developed a specialization and consulting verticalwithin the free, open-source content management system (CMS) called Drupal. Mediacurrent offers strategicdirection and tactical implementation of an array of creative and technical solutions. For more information regardingMediacurrent’s services and portfolio please visit www.mediacurrent.com.