Corner Office: Know the Code
Having trouble getting a handle on HTML5? Don't worry, you're not alone. Even executives whose job it is to shape the future use of technology in publishing face significant challenges in implementing the latest Web coding language for long-term strategic goals.
At IDG Consumer & SMB, Chief Technology Officer Aaron Jones faced just such a challenge in adapting to changes in the marketplace and media. The company is undertaking the relaunch of PCWorld and MacWorld and the launch of a new brand, TechHive.com, all on one publishing platform. This required reorganizing around a "new product management infrastructure," he told an audience at the recent "MPA Digital: Technology" conference in New York. The new structure meant revamping sales, editorial, business operations and, most significantly, technology.
Adding MacWorld to a system built originally for PCWorld was the impetus for change. Initially, to allow for flexibility in how content was displayed, two separate branches of code were maintained on the "front end," which often meant double the work for developers.
"You end up managing two things that are very similar but not the same," he told Publishing Executive, "so every time you want to introduce something new … you have to do it twice." As sites becaome more complex, this meant additional hiring or more coding for existing staff. With plans to rebrand and expand further, the situation became untenable.
To solve the problem, platforms were unified into one core database, with the goal of speed, scalability and flexibility. Rather than maintaining separate templates for multiple sites and platforms, IDG created a fluid system for making quick changes across platforms.
At the heart of this effort was the building of documents based on semantic cues—in other words, instructions that express use and context rather than spell out the exact appearance of something. By allowing systems to understand what an element is meant to achieve in multiple situations, rather than forcing it to render an exact certain way (say, four pink columns 80 pixels wide), elements can easily be altered and adapted across multiple digital platforms.