Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why pay for what's free?

Until yesterday I'd never seen the Web site of hip-hop magazine XXL. That may surprise some people, given how well known it is that I'm as hip and fashionable as a 47-year old can be. Nonetheless, hip-hop isn't on my radar.
But yesterday I attended Folio's E-Publishing Strategies seminar in Boston. And one of the speakers was Jason Brightman, director of Web and emerging technologies at Harris Publications, parent of XXL.

Jason walked us through the site. And much to my delight, XXL turned out to be a sort of poster boy for how I think a magazine Web site should work. I won't steal too much of Jason's thunder. You should try to catch him yourself the next time he speaks (The E-Publishing seminar will be given in December in Chicago. I'm not sure if Jason will be there.)
But suffice it to say that XXL does many of the things that I urge B2B publishers to do, chief among them:
1) hire outside experts to blog on your site;
2) use Flash for your video; and
3) avoid overlapping your Web and print content.

But what I find most interesting about XXL is that it's built with WordPress -- the free, open-source software popular with bloggers.
As luck would have it, I've been doing a lot of arguing of late about content-management systems. Almost everyone I know in magazines is using some sort of overpriced dinosaur to put their stories on the Web. And when I suggest that it may be time to dump their existing CMS and use a free system, people tend to freak out.
No one seems to believe that free software can do a better job than the something that costs tens of thousands of dollars. And even though there are millions of examples of great sites running on WordPress, I haven't been able to point them toward a great magazine site that uses the system. (Note: there are examples of top-notch publications run on other open-source systems. Check out the Onion, powered by Drupal. Or look at anything owned by Prism -- all its sites are run on a modified version of Bricolage, which was originally built to run Salon.)
So I'm just thrilled to have an example of a gorgeous site with millions of page views that runs on WordPress, which happens to be my all-time favorite piece of publishing software.

For more on using WordPress as a CMS, click here.
For a comparison of existing CMS systems, click here.

(Addendum: 1/24/08 -- Last year Jason Brightman left XXL and joined the staff of IDG, one of my clients.)

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  1. Great post, Paul, and I agree with everything you said in it. I have heard the accolades for WordPress from many quarters. However, I have also heard from our college Web administrator that while WordPress is the bomb for blogs, for a publication with sections or departments, he prefers TextPattern (also free and open source).

    Here are four (nonprofit) examples showing the diverse design possibilities:


    Documentary Institute

    College News

    WUFT-TV News

  2. I just moved to wordpress which was only a challenge because I wanted to preserve all of the incoming links and five years of archives. It is a very robust content management system. As for XXL, I especially like that the top top headlines deal w/ different rappers being arrested.

  3. Totally agree. We dumped a proprietary system for Joomla, the open source CMS (another flavor of Mambo, also open source). It's far more powerful than what we had before, and it's supported by an active development community. Even better, I'm not beholden to one vendor. All I need to do is type "Joomla developer" in to google. For smaller sites, we use Movable Type, which I imagine is similar to Wordpress.

    The days of publishers paying $50K just for CMS software is over.

    -- Dave Newcorn

  4. Great post. Our small company is almost exclusively open source. We moved our corporate website ( along with all of our publications to Drupal earlier this summer. We also only use MySQL and phpAds with it.

    I'm not sure I would pick Drupal again but I really can't complain.