Peek behind the scenes with the WordPress team at News Corp Australia
We have had the pleasure of working with News Corp Australia (NCA) since early 2015. Today they host 21 sites with us, including market leaders News.com.au, Foxsports.com.au, and TheAustralian.com.au.
For NCA, WordPress represents one important application among others, within a complex and powerful systems architecture that predated their migration. They run their own massive content database and API (CAPI) and also use Méthode for print publishing. The smart ways they have integrated their existing components into WordPress as they migrated their flagship publications to it are a testament to their development vision and execution. They also point to one of WordPress’ great strengths. Its flexibility allows enterprise organizations with existing infrastructure to adapt and evolve with WordPress over time, rather than requiring a complete systems overhaul and mass migration all at once.
Kurator Lite is one of those powerful custom-built tools that NCA uses to bring external resources to authors and editors working in WordPress. After catching a glimpse of Kurator Lite in action, I chatted with Juan Zapata, head of the WordPress group, the Site Production Platform (SPP) team at News Corp Australia, to hear more about its history, how it works, and what’s in the pipeline for the SPP team.
You shared a really cool video that shows how an author or editor in WordPress at News Corp Australia can use Kurator Lite to work with all these different assets and content from all over the company. It looks like a really impressive piece of workflow. Tell me about its history.
Juan Zapata: Before we moved on to WordPress VIP we had two different platforms running. One was called FatWire, which was Oracle-based, for print and digital. The other one is Méthode, for print editions of newspapers. There was a disconnect between digital and print in which a user had to create the categories in both systems to be able to have them running correctly. This gap drove the company to create something to bridge the two.
That’s where the need for Kurator came about, a tool that manages whole sections of content in both. It’s a tool to help editorial tell the story a bit more easily and share it within these 2 worlds. After Kurator the team built Kurator Lite, which is that small panel you see in the video. That allows you to see the sections or the categories that you can assign to multiple stories. Then they embedded that thing into FatWire. And the same functionality was embedded into Méthode.
What year was that?
I started at News Corp Australia in 2015, and I think that project started in 2013.
How many publications and asset sources does Kurator search?
Kurator is basically an interface on our database, which is called CAPI, for Content API. At this stage, it has six million stories, last time I heard, like a month ago. The stories are syndicated across multiple sites, so it is basically a massive search on our database.
Really massive. So there was Kurator and you had versions of it implemented in these two CMS systems, FatWire and Méthode. Tell me about the WordPress implementation.
We decided, ‘okay, editors already know how to use this tool. Editors already are familiar with these interfaces. Let’s also embed it into WordPress, where they are managing digital publications.’ That’s the video that you saw in which you can basically find stories, search by section, drag and drop those assets from an external database, which is not within WordPress. Then WordPress will grab them and import them to be displayed and curated.
How recently was that embed for WordPress made available? When did the team finish that?
That needed to be done ASAP as we implemented WordPress…It went live at the end of 2015, so it had to be ready by that time because they need to be able to manage stories or curate stories within WordPress. They need to be able to search the stories that are not in WordPress to be able to import them and organize them and display that within the WordPress template. That had to go straight out.
How does it work? Can you walk me through some of the ways that an editor or an author would use it as they’re creating a story?
We tried to keep it as simple as possible. There are two ways of interacting with this thing. One of them is to rank or put collections into WordPress. Within WordPress, we created a custom post type that is a collection of items, of stories, of promos or whatever you want in there. It’s a collection of posts, basically.
You can go and open an interface for Kurator in your right panel. Then you search for whatever story you want. You drag it and drop it. You drop it into your container of the collection in that case. Then you can rank your collection in any place or your story in any part of the collection. It can be in the first location of that collection.
Then that collection is rendered in the website, for example, in the front page. It will be like the main stories in there. They can drop main stories in there directly, so they manage that concept of collections in there for that one. One way of doing it is through ranking stories into collections. You can open your Kurator panel, drag and drop, and pull your story directly in there.
The other way authors use Kurator Lite is, when you’re creating a story, basically you have your WordPress story in there. You create your title, your body. Within News Corp, we have the concept of containers. Container One is…if I translate that into WordPress, that will be your thumbnail image or your picture image. When you open the article page at the top you’ll see your featured image.
We have extended that functionality a little bit. What you can drop in there is multiple images and even videos. To keep it simple you just open your Kurator window on the right side, and then search for the image and then drop it into Container One. We have also extended this capability to the body of the article using this as oEmbeds elements.
Finally, we have something that is called Container Two right at the bottom, which is a container for related articles, things that you may be interested in that are related to these articles that you’re creating. The same functionality works there. You drag and drop and put it into that container. We tried to keep it as easy as possible as it helps to manually curate content.
The drag and drop looks really nice in the video. How does that work?
It took us a while to develop because the Kurator panel is an iframe. What we have to do is behind the scenes when you click on a drag event, it extends or puts a div that extends across the whole visible area of your editor. When you drag out of your iframe (visually as you are still within it), it starts sending post messages to that parent window, telling it, “Look, I’m in this position of that massive element.” Then it will be able to identify what to highlight behind the scenes.
Because there was no easy way of offering drag and dropping functionality between two iframes, we came with this approach. It’s all done through post messages going back and forth. Once you drop it, it sends another post message saying, “I drop it in this location.” Then we’ll add it and trigger the whole thing that is happening there.
It’s not the best implementation today because nowadays there are various different tools available that we can implement it with. There is now a way that we have figured out of integrating directly into WordPress, instead of using an iframe, but we tried to keep it as close as possible as it was implemented in the previous system because it was a known interaction and a business requirement. We knew what we were going to do in there at the time, basically, instead of going and trying different stuff with WordPress. But now we know a way of integrating more directly with WordPress, which will come later on.
What else does the full Kurator application do? What features are you most proud of?
Kurator does section management. If we translate that into WordPress terms, that will be category management. You can create categories in there. It does very good as it displays syndication rules in a very natural way. Kurator does not syndicate per se, but it has the rules of syndication. You can create a section within Kurator, and that section will say, “Okay, when somebody selects this specific section, I have to put it in this website in this category, in this other website in this category, in this website in this category.” It will tell CAPI, “You have to publish this information into all these sites.”
That’s one of the fantastic features that Kurator has in there, section management and syndication management.
The other one, of course, is Kurator Lite, which is for searching assets. That’s the part that’s integrated into WordPress.
The other one is legal kill. The whole concept of legally killing an asset is to remove it from any website as soon as possible for legal reasons. You say, “I want to legal kill this item,” but the problem is that the asset has been syndicated to multiple sites. You cannot say, “Yeah, it’s deleted from all the sites,” until you get confirmation from all the sites. To accomplish this Kurator verifies all the sites that it has been syndicated to and starts pulling information from there to see if everything was successful depending on the information that it has. It stays there until it finishes. If there is an error, it will notify people about it. It’s a very robust platform built in Node.js with AngularJS. It’s very interesting. It’s completely separate to WordPress, completely separate to CAPI. It’s its own beast.
How much of a team supports Kurator?
It’s three people. It’s a very small team. It was built long ago, and the core of it hasn’t needed to be touched since then. They built it as a plugin system – one plugin is search. Another plugin is the legal kill functionality. Another plugin is the section management piece. That core thing, they haven’t touched it since they built it. That’s how well they built it. It was a very good engineering task that they did in there for that one. Yeah. At this stage, it’s three people maintaining it.
Tell me about the SPP team, what does your team do and how do you work?
Within the company, we are the core team that powers WordPress and the teams that all the other product teams developed. We are responsible for ingesting content from our content API, CAPI into WordPress, getting that synced correctly in WordPress, Developing and maintaining our own editor and supporting theme developers with extra plugins within other functions of the team.
We are 4 WordPress PHP developers, 2 testers, and 1 automation tester, who is also a developer.
We actually have 52 different plugins that allow us to do a lot of stuff in our system within WordPress. To name some we have CAPI sync which controls the translation and ingestion of content to WordPress, Authoring which allows editors to create content within WordPress with all the different containers and integrations, Kurator integration, CHP integration which is our archive of images not hosted within WordPress, Legal Kill, Draft Post, Expire Post, Site Migration, I can go on…The list is massive.
What’s coming up on the SPP roadmap?
One big one is, we removed the previous liveblogging functionality that we were using, which was with a third party. We are bringing it into WordPress using VIP’s Liveblog plugin. We have been rolling that out this last month. Now we’re rolling out AMP support for live blogging which I’m really keen and looking forward to getting it out. Also, we are working on migrating to VIP Go to which our plugins need a bit of massaging but nothing that worries me.
That’s great. What kinds of use cases around News Corp is live blogging used for mostly? Is it sports? Is it entertainment?
Almost everything. Sports is the main one that you will see in there, but they have rolling stories around every morning that says, “Things that you need to know today.” Think of it like a live coverage story. They’re just churning stories in there into the Liveblog, and that appears in your homepage saying, “Things that you need to know today. This happened, or this happened yesterday.” They change that every 10 minutes, every 15 minutes. It’s like a live blogging functionality, but they use it in that part of the site. That’s used every day.
Political applications as well, they use it. Catastrophic events, like fires. Anything that needs a live blog, but basically the two main ones are sports, and then daily things that are happening in the city.
To learn more about our work with News Corp Australia, check out this case study.