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Sunshine State News

Sunshine State News has success with Drupal

How Acquia and Blink Reaction Partnered Deliver Enterprise-Grade Drupal Performance

This case study examines Sunshine State News' migration to Drupal and highlights how Acquia Hosting was able to scale at the drop of a hat to accommodate 50,000 unexpected unique visitors in one day.

Sunshine State News is an online media start-up with a unique approach to news. Combining the immediacy of rich media reporting with the relevancy of local reporting, Sunshine State News is playing a vital role in Florida’s news coverage of business and political events. Founded by veteran editors and journalists, Sunshine State News has focused creating real value for local readers, while charting a business plan that is profitable and self-sustaining. Sunshine State’s high standards and localized coverage make it an ideal destination for connecting readers, hard news and advertisers of relevant services.

Putting the Best Foot Forward

As a start-up news provider, Sunshine State News had the benefit of a clean slate. Not having a legacy platform to migrate from allowed Sunshine the agility to fully embrace a technology of choice. It also required management to perform due diligence, ensuring that their technology would meet existing and future requirements. With a vision for their site, the founders of Sunshine State News took a broad look at media-focused web sites, to see what was working and what wasn’t. Politico.com, a national source for all things political, was recognized as a highly successful example of online news at work. Sites were singled out that provided a range of community tools, rapidly changing content, powerful search tools, and the performance to handle high volumes of traffic. Working backwards from successful online instances, it was clear that an Open Source platform was the ideal choice.

“Unlike proprietary software,” said Lane Wright, Senior Reporter at Sunshine State News, “Open Source fit our needs in a number of ways. Without license fees, it fit our start-up budget. Open Source technology also evolves faster – Open Source sets the trends, rather than trying to keep up. Our experience told us that we needed technology that would keep us ahead of the curve.”

Sunshine State News evaluated Wordpress and Joomla, along with Drupal. “Drupal was the clear frontrunner,” said Lane. “Drupal’s community of developers were extremely prolific, and invested in their contributions to modules and core development. It also helped that most of our favorite sites were running Drupal. Finally, several trusted advisors were recommending Drupal based on past successes.”
As a start-up news provider, Sunshine State News had the benefit of a clean slate. Not having a legacy platform to migrate from allowed Sunshine the agility to fully embrace a technology of choice. It also required management to perform due diligence, ensuring that their technology would meet existing and future requirements. With a vision for their site, the founders of Sunshine State News took a broad look at media-focused web sites, to see what was working and what wasn’t. Politico.com, a national source for all things political, was recognized as a highly successful example of online news at work. Sites were singled out that provided a range of community tools, rapidly changing content, powerful search tools, and the performance to handle high volumes of traffic. Working backwards from successful online instances, it was clear that an Open Source platform was the ideal choice.

“Unlike proprietary software,” said Lane Wright, Senior Reporter at Sunshine State News, “Open Source fit our needs in a number of ways. Without license fees, it fit our start-up budget. Open Source technology also evolves faster – Open Source sets the trends, rather than trying to keep up. Our experience told us that we needed technology that would keep us ahead of the curve.”

Sunshine State News evaluated Wordpress and Joomla, along with Drupal. “Drupal was the clear frontrunner,” said Lane. “Drupal’s community of developers were extremely prolific, and invested in their contributions to modules and core development. It also helped that most of our favorite sites were running Drupal. Finally, several trusted advisors were recommending Drupal based on past successes.”

Securing Development and Support for the Site

Sunshine State News discovered Acquia almost immediately after deciding Drupal. As the only provider of commercial support for Open Source Drupal, Acquia has become synonymous with enterprise deployments of Drupal. There was only one problem for Sunshine, who was ready to commission their own Drupal site; Acquia wasn’t in the business of building websites. Fortunately, Acquia has amassed a deep roster of partner talent. Acquia was able to recommend several 3rd-party developers for Sunshine to evaluate. Sunshine’s review of bidding developers was based on professional chemistry and a clear understanding of the long-term goals for the site. After a close examination, Sunshine selected Blink Reaction, the New Jersey-based Drupal development shop.

The Benefits of Acquia Partnership

“I’ve been asked numerous times why we partner with Acquia,” said Nancy Stango, CEO and Solutions Architect at Blink. “There’s a perception that Drupal developers are in competition with Acquia, and that’s simply not the case. In fact, partnering with Acquia has enabled us to grow our practice. We’re in the development business - we want to build sites. For larger customers, the volume of information and rich social community tools means there’s going to be substantial support requirements for their sites. Providing that type of support – that’s not the business we want to be in. By partnering with Acquia, we can build robust sites, and then hand off support in managed process. In fact, there have been projects we would have steered clear of due to the subsequent support needs, if Acquia hadn’t been there to fill that role.”

The Sunshinestatenews.com site reveals several examples of partner synergy. Acquia was able to recommend a number of potential developers, based on suitability for the project. As the chosen development shop and Acquia Partner, Blink used the Acquia package of Drupal to develop the site. Acquia Drupal offers a preset number of tested and ready- to-launch modules, allowing development to be accelerated. Acquia Drupal is also the optimum environment for Acquia support, as it minimizes the number of untested modules. Acquia also uses its partner network to connect complementary, such as pairing a Drupal development shop with a search engine optimization (SEO) firm, so that contractors can work on their respective areas of subject matter expertise. As partners, Blink can easily reengage the customer to develop new applications for Sunshine State News, while Acquia provides uninterrupted support. Acquia also offers the added benefit of hosting and remote administration, which would prove vitally important to Sunshinestatenews.com, as it grew by leaps and bounds.

Building Sunshinestatenews.com

Blink worked with Sunshine State News to build a site plan around their phased objectives. Important among the requirements was the ability for users to submit multimedia content, which would then be vetted and selectively posted by the editorial department.

AcornerstoneofSunshineStateNews’mediamodelisthe“Snap”,oruser/ member contributed content. This allows members to report on news as it happens, submitting text, audio, image, and video resources to the site. As is often the case, a newsworthy event can potentially be witnessed, and now documented, by scores of eyewitnesses. Sunshine was envisioning a model where editors would review, edit, and organize user Snaps and journalist contributions around a particular story, to provide a layer of quality control. Subsequent additions would be grouped and released along a timeline of editions, analogous to print newspapers. This provided the ability for real-time contributions to benefits of editorial review cycles, resulting in content that is both timely and professional.

This editorial model created two substantial technical requirements. First, Blink would have to provide some means for multimedia content to be uploaded, encoded and presented. Additionally, fairly robust controls for managing content permissions and dynamically tagging and associating content would have to be made available. Blink initially worked with SlideshowPro, an off-the-shelf product for uploading video. Due to an incompatibility with YouTube, Blink eschewed SlideshowPro, instead opting to build custom module. Through Blink’s custom module Sunshine State News would be able to take advantage of the cost savings and visibility associated with YouTube video hosting. To provide much of the online newsroom functionality, Blink implemented ProsePoint. A custom packaging of Drupal components, ProsePoint is well suited for editorial workflows, with tools for managing edition-based publishing, WYSIWYG media layout, and channel support.

Blink also performed additional module customization to integrate Constant Contact email campaign management, ProsePoint to YouTube integration, and custom tools for sizing and cropping images. The site offers interactivity, including “Snap” user contribution opportunities, and polls that allow people to weigh in on current issues. Blink rose to meet the challenge of an aggressive launch timeline, and the site went live in March of 2010. It is important to note that the site went live in a content-rich state, meaning that sunshinestatenews.com launched with extensive content on day one. This required agility and cooperation between Blink and news contributors.

With the site developed and ready to go Blink coordinated with Acquia to provide the support and hosting needed to keep the small but rapidly growing online news source performing. That performance would soon be put to the test.

The Perils of a Successful Scoop

In May of 2010, Sunshine State News reported an attention-grabbing story – a Florida State Senator was found to be looking at pornographic images on his laptop, in the Senate chambers, using a state-issued laptop computer. Even more explosive was the footage that documented the act.

When the moment was right, Sunshine State News released the Senator’s story to the world with video and text. A few minutes after making the story public Lane realized he’d forgotten one important thing. In the frenzy to get the story prepared and covering the journalistic bases of fairness and accuracy, he’d forgotten to call Acquia and let them know they had a big one. He got on the phone immediately, letting the Acquia support staff know this story about a state senator caught with porn on his laptop on the senate floor would potentially be getting a lot of hits.

They had no idea.

Almost immediately well-known bloggers and news media outlets picked up the story. Within two hours of the story going live, Sunshine State News saw more traffic than they saw on their average day.

But Acquia was already working to adjust on the fly at that point. As soon as they got the call from Lane, they began the process of adding servers to handle the anticipated load.

Because of the short notice on the call there was about a half hour of sluggish page loads, but by the time the real hits started flooding in, the site was already running at a capacity to handle it.

Nearly 50,000 visitors to the site wanted to see the footage the first day alone. Later that night Sunshine State News was getting calls from countries in Europe, South America and Australia asking if they could run the video and link back to them. That, all in addition to the local and national news shops around the U.S. wanting the same thing. Fortunately, once notified, Acquia was able to use its cloud hosting services to balance the traffic, minimizing disruption. “We knew the story would be big, but we had no idea it would be that big!” says Lane Wright. “Acquia took it all in stride, and within a half- hour, we were operating at peak performance. It’s a good example of how responsive Acquia is. I can’t imagine what would have happened were we had gone with a company who didn’t have Acquia’s flexibility and skill.” The spike in traffic is part of an ongoing increase in site visitors and page clicks. Content is also being repurposed and syndicated via other online outlets. Sunshine State News is growing at an impressive pace, exceeding expectations. Acquia continues to monitor traffic, and is well poised
to provide preemptive hosting resource in the event of another attention-grabbing headline.

About Blink Reaction

Blink Reaction manipulates Drupal applications to develop appealing and persuasive websites and other media solutions designed to push your internet presence up to the next level. Blink developers offer clients the most advanced Drupal technology available. For more information visit www.blinkreaction.com.

About Acquia

Acquia is a commercial open source software company. We provide a valuable set of software and network services for the popular Drupal open source social publishing system. At Acquia, we maximize the potential of Drupal-powered solutions through our annual subscriptions for software and services. For more information about how Acquia can transform your community driven web investments, contact Acquia Sales at sales@ acquia.com, 888-9-ACQUIA or +1-978-296-5250.

Unlike proprietary software, Open Source fit our needs in a number of ways. Without license fees, it fit our start-up budget. Open Source technology also evolves faster – Open Source sets the trends, rather than trying to keep up. Our experience told us that we needed technology that would keep us ahead of the curve
Lane Wright
Senior Reporter at Sunshine State News

Company Information

Sunshine State News
Online Media
Requirements
  • Scalable and flexible architecture
  • Ability for non-technical staff to manage content and editorial workflow
  • Support for a granular set of permissions
  • Site launch had to be content-rich on day one

Benefits

  • Best of breed vendors: Blink provided rapid expert development; Acquia delivers ongoing hosting & support
  • Acquia’s cloud-based hosting can easily support traffic spikes
  • Drupal architecture supports all of the workflow and layout requirements of a leading online media site
  • Acquia support is proactive and enables Sunshine State News to focus on the task of delivering multimedia news content