USA Today’s World Cup – Now With Full Transcript

Ephraim Gregor from USA Today presented “World Cup and VIP”  at a recent Big Media & Enterprise Meetup in New York City, now with full transcript. 

Hi everyone, I’m Ephraim and I’m from USA Today Sports media group. USA Today Sports Media Group is basically a subgroup within the USA Today proper, and we formed about two, two and a half years ago with the purpose of essentially improving and consolidating USA Today’s fairly extensive sports offerings.

Now, when we first started that when we first started that, basically we looked at all our current acquisitions, as we acquired a lot of little many one off, that we thought would be a good acquisition.

It had some interesting moments and so we essentially looked to WordPress for both unified code,easy to use editorial tools a good plugin architecture.

We first of all looked at the code base which was basically pretty much everything under the sun and more and decided that we needed to consolidate, improve and move to one code base. It had some interesting moments and so we essentially looked to WordPress for both unified code, easy to use editorial tools a good plugin architecture and after developing some independent WordPress, we then moved to VIP.

VIP basically allows us to spin up very rapidly and develop across one central theme which we call Lawrence and develop many many small sort of look and feels that we develop and integrate and display modular systems within the WordPress.

We first of all looked at the code base which was basically pretty much everything under the sun and more and decided that we needed to consolidate, improve and move to one code base.

As it says, we have 3-6 styles and we’re adding more every single project with additional integrations as we go on. Sports, specifically, as a data-driven architecture is essentially, interesting because not-only do we have the sort of standard article content-driven approach, we also have to deal with fact that we are trying to deliver, ideally, real-time data about every single sporting event we’re going to report.

In general, right now, our platforms tend to be divided into specific sub categories so we have to have one platform that can deliver soccer, one platform that delivers baseball, one platform that delivers fighting stuff.

So that’s certainly a challenge. So what we’ve done is essentially built off a central theme with multiple plugins to then allow us to turn on and off various sorts of external systems that can deliver this data into the WordPress flow and then deliver that to our users.

So recently I was the lead dev on the World Cup offering we have put up for obviously a sporting event that’s happening right now. What that was, was interesting for several reasons.

First of all, we had to integrate both vendor and internal data to display that with the latest scores, articles, stuff like that. We also had to basically develop a system in place to allow us to display that to the users while maintaining editorial control over that.

A lot of the data was driven by third-party vendor based out of the UK. We also had the problem of essentially turning this into one of our first hub sites. By which I mean, we have a lot of content spread throughout our network. and we wanted to basically flow that content into our own, into World Cup, while also maintaining the fact that these are external links to their own sites and maintaining that sort of multiple umbrella we have.

So what we ended up doing is leveraging both VIP’s offerings and our own, to extend to plugins and syndication things, to build that out into an experience for users that would allow essentially the mobile WordPress flow of content generated by authors directly syndicated to the user, into content distributed across all of our sites both WordPress and non-WordPress and display to the user within the whole post flow, while allowing the user to go to that and go to an external site.

It was interesting. Other things we implemented was also basically increased sort of data migration we had because we basically had the challenge of both integrating the vendor, as mentioned as well as our own data, which we get from various vendors, editorial-driven, code, all bits and bobs.

Generally, the general architecture approach we take for data is to have it stored in external databases and have that be their own CMS that we manage internally as opposed to trying to put that within the WordPress architecture.

We also are starting to move slowly onto other divisions within USA Today, and are seeing a good thing and wanting to get a slice of that pie.

While there is some content that definitely fits, like the custom post types, taxonomies and stuff like that, generally for sports data that’s somewhat unwieldy. So we generally prefer to spin up our own either Mongo or MySQL based solutions.

So our goals going forward is to basically continue operating and migrating our solutions onto the WordPress VIP platform I don’t know the exact count of sites we have right now. I think it’s either between 15 and 20 with more spinning up every week.

We also are starting to move slowly onto other divisions within USA Today, and are seeing a good thing and wanting to get a slice of that pie.

So we are moving Life, Entertainment, that sort of thing as well. Obviously none of this affects, like if you go to As a whole, that is not WordPress, that might be something in the future. But right now it is a separate platform, but there’s a lot of little subsections that are very much looking and keen on the WordPress as a platform.

We’re also continuing to improve Lawrence as keeping that as a core modular theme, which we’re iterating off and adding new sort of API integrations for our own content and data driven by others, and we’re pretty sure that we can develop pretty much anything within this platform.

So I’m out of time but I will take questions now.

Q: Brad from Alley Interactive, what’s Lawrence named after?

A: Lawrence is named after, it was developed by a bunch of guys in the LA office originally, and apparently there was a vendor who just randomly runs into the building and offered sandwiches and his name was Lawrence. I don’t know what to make of that, as a member of the New York office, but it is what it is, any other questions?

Q: How do you interact this USA Today sports group with the other properties?

A: Reasonably siloed. We obviously have some dealings with the other offerings as well as the USA Today central group, but as I said, most of the sports stuff is a little bit outside of that field. Certainly our biggest integration is moving basically flowing content across both all WordPress sports media group offerings into the other systems and vice-versa, so that’s our biggest integration and we’re looking for like similar sort of promotional stuff like syndication, stuff like that as well.

Is there any other questions?

Q: Rohit from Forbes, so obviously you’re using WordPress on the backend, so first question is WordPress also feeding the front-end of the sports system?

A: Yes.

Q: And then you mentioned other divisions within USA Today are also looking to make the move over…The main USA Today website using php or something?

A: The main USA Today website is actually a system not too dissimilar from yours actually. I believe that we have a proprietary CMSin it, I believe an ASP, that drives a front-end based off of Django.

Q: So now as you’re looking to move some of the divisions over, is that going to be an API system to connect with them or is it going to end up being completely moved over to WordPress?

A: We are actively working on an integration system to sort of marry the two systems together. Presto is what it’s called. The main USA Today CMS is architectured with an API that we can use, and that’s something we’re definitely looking to utilize for our other divisions. It really depends.

I don’t believe there’s any call to use WordPress exclusively as the front-end facing instead of Presto, that does fairly well architectured out for us to use that site. However, we do have people looking into trying to spin up their own sort of mini sub groups with more exclusive content and that is definitely looking to pull in with Presto and WordPress-driven data to use on the front-end and that is generally hosted by WordPress.

Anyone else?

Q: Hey, James, Athletics, I was curious just if you could rattle off some of the other sites running on this?

A: Sure, let’s see, our oldest one is For The Win, which is, which originally was the one we launched originally to cast WordPress as a platform in general.

It was not VIP and it was self hosted on Amazon and that was fun. We also have the […] Entertain This, we have College, we have High School Sports, which actually just launched. We have America’s Markets, we have […] and a few others that are currently in development. I actually don’t know off the top of my head the entire list.

Q: […] The other divisions looking to use WordPress, is that really driven by your group, your developers?

A: A combination of both, we originally chose WordPress for it’s ease of editorial
and for it’s ease of editorial tools and our editorial department was so enthusiastic about that, so once that started going, we as developers preferred this as a platform as we felt it was more modular and our group drove it and the editorial folks within our division also wished to continue using WordPress as a platform choice.

Even though there was obviously some hiccups along the way, about various capabilities but you know, we continue to extend our Lawrence to basically cover anything needed. Just so I’m clear, USA Today Sports media group actually contains both editorial and engineering, we’re not engineering exclusive.

Any other questions?

Q: Matthew, Athletics, when you talk about integrating Sports, […] Mongo DB, are you ingesting that in PHP or on the front-end?

A: Generally php, we haven’t really had a need yet to have to do our own live streaming front-end, which would obviously means we couldn’t use like caching like WordPress would provide, so that is something we’ll definitely do in the future. But for now, most of the data we’re ingesting, if not like vendor-driven, widget-type thing, is just generally in the php, but with the VIP server calls.

Q: Steve, the question is are you unifying your archives?

A: Um, I don’t believe at the moment. Potentially, generally, correct me if I’m wrong, most of the stuff, we’ve done so far has been very like trendy, up to date, we’ve seen like 30-40 articles published in a single day. So what’s old generally isn’t considered that much. I mean obviously as we move more and more of the main USA Today platform and that sort of stuff on to VIP, moving content from that system that we already have onto WordPress it’s something we’d definitely consider. But right now, it’s just not a priority.

Q: Let me ask a follow up question. Even in the active system (…) when you eventually […] content, do you keep that or flush it out?

A: We don’t get rid of them, we tend to have tentpole sites, which is World Cup is a great example. We have an event, World Cup 2014, and we put it up. Obviously it’s just really useful for World Cup 2014, but we don’t get rid of that content. Generally the strategy right now is keep the actual site archived and continue to iterate. We would probably eventually have a more hub-based solution which would have that old content flowed in,
using our existing tools to pull and manipulate content across our VIP offerings.

Anything else?

Going once, going twice.

Thank you very much.

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