Three sites

Security Systems News, Security Director News, HME News

These trade publications needed to simplify their technical foundations, converting all their sites to a single content management system.

United Publications approached us with a broken site and requested help. Their existing Drupal development company could take their project no further and the site was incomplete, with broken bits. They needed a Drupal-savvy shop to come in and rescue them.

We don't do site repair, but we agreed to perform a paid discovery on their site's Drupal codebase and see whether a new implementation might make sense. What we found was something of a mess, with hacked core and modules with lots of custom code with almost no comments (and none in English). There was nothing to be salvaged. Any work would have to start anew.

They also had two other sites running in a simple custom PHP CMS that had essentially the same architecture; fortunately migrating those sites to Drupal had not yet been attempted.

We proposed a solution to clean up the user interface a bit and migrate all three sites into Drupal 7, following best practices, to get them on a sound, scalable footing going forward.

Rescue

Getting Security Systems News was the first priority. The other two sites would be done later, leveraging UX and code work done for SSN.


screenshot of previous securitysystemsnews.com

The original site was in Drupal 6, but the previous developers were in over their heads.


Three sites, one codebase

Since the three sites have the same overall architecture, we decided that the most sensible way to go would be to build this as a multisite install – one shared codebase with separate databases for each site. The vast majority of modules would be shared, while custom code for each site would live in their own sites subfolder. To the end user, the three sites would be completely separate, each on its own domain. To the site owners and maintainers, the sites would be centralized, with a central repository for performing code updates.

Architectural discovery and UX cleanup

We began with defining the sites' architecture, proposing ways to clean up problematic UI components.


mid-age of previous securitysystemsnews.com

The original design presented some usability challenges.


The middle of the original home pages presented a usability problem, with a Twitter block and fixed-height content areas presenting mouse-scroll traps for the user. We cleaned that up, and replaced the gray background of the main content area with a cleaner white presentation.

Migration

The SSN migration proved to be a bit of a challenge, because the previous developer's hacks held undocumented surprises for us. We needed to migrate content from the troubled site without migrating the trouble.

When the time came to migrate the other two sites, we encountered a couple dozen corrupted typographic characters due to incompatible character sets. We had to interpret what the characters were by context. Then we developed some scripts to convert those to valid utf-8 values.

Subscription integrations

Another major component of the project was to integrate the sites with their new fulfillment house. In the first phase we had to integrate SSN with their legacy subscriptions house because the priority was to get the site up and running and functional.

Then, a few months later, we re-engineered the integration to work with a different fulfillment house. In this process, we were able to improve the user experience somewhat: Rather than having to provide user info each and every time one wanted to download a whitepaper, the user's info is saved in a user account; the next time that user wants to download a whitepaper, she can simply log in.

Results

The three sites went live on a staggered timetable.


screenshot of securitysystemsnews.com

The new SSN site features a cleaner presentation with improved legibility and usability.



screenshot of hmenews.com

HME News, the trade publication for Home Medical Equipment, was built leveraging SSN's architecture, and powered by the same codebase.



screenshot of Security Director News

Security Director News also share architecture and code with the other two sites.


Three sites on one codebase. Leveraged power!

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