25 Nov, 11 | by BMJ Group
In August 2011 more than 1700 developers converged on Croydon for the four-day DrupalCon, an event that brings together people and products united in their enthusiasm for a freely available open source software that’s powering an increasing number of websites across the world.
“Come for the software, stay for the community” boasts the Drupal UK website, adding “Drupal is free, flexible, robust and constantly being improved by hundreds of thousands of passionate people from all over the world. Join us!”
The BMJ embraced this near messianic zeal almost two years ago when it decided that Drupal was the platform to host the redesigned bmj.com. Both we and HighWire Press, Stanford University library’s digital publishing arm and our technical partner for BMJ and 42 specialty journals since 1997, agreed.
The decision instantly made the term “redesign” a misnomer. We weren’t just giving our website a pretty makeover. We wanted it to do new things, both for launch (which happened on 8 November) and going forward. So the status quo was not an option.
The collaborative ethos that is a cornerstone of open source solutions is a good ideological fit for the BMJ and for HighWire. Its stable of online peer reviewed scholarly journals include Science, the Royal Society, and Oxford University Press. Also, BMJ Group is already a fan of open source publishing platforms. Our intranet and some of our product sites are hosted on Plone. Our blogs are all WordPress sites. We were reassured that Drupal adoptees include some big hitters from the world of publishing, including The Economist and Die Zeit.
The project kicked off in earnest at the beginning of 2010 using the Agile iterative project management tool . It was a co-development from the beginning. This is no mean feat when your technical partners are in Palo Alto, California.
Good two-way communication was crucial. The redesign process involved a conference call every ten days to review the requirements list and work out what was going to be included in the following iteration. Each task was assigned a number of points (depending on the resource required, both in California and London). Ten days later we got together for a “show and tell.” At this meeting we’d invite colleagues from across the journal (editorial, marketing, customer services, technology etc) to review what had been delivered by the redesign team.
So why Drupal? The BMJ is a complex site with content dating back to its launch in 1840. It publishes both scholarly and journalistic articles. In 1995 it became the first general medical journal to have a website. Since then there’s been, to quote a colleague, lots of “fettling” of the site.
Our new platform offered an opportunity to standardise things so that more of our content sits formally under the bmj.com domain. We moved our podcasts over to Drupal, and our resources for authors, readers etc. so they can now be searched from the same place. We’ve introduced the ability to rate and recommend article responses. We may extend this to articles at some point, and perhaps introduce real time commenting for some journalistic articles (news, columnists, opinion pieces etc).
The BMJ is fortunate in having a talented technology team who know both the journal well and require a degree of flexibility to help the journal deliver on some of its strategic objectives, including microsites, specialty portals, tablet versions.
We hope Drupal will make things easier for us. In a sense this is only the start. We are new to Drupal, so we have yet to discover the platform’s true potential. I suspect we’ll become regular attenders of future Drupalcons.
BMJ’s online history
First general medical journal to join PubMed Central
Series and folders launched
BMJ weekly podcasts begin
David Payne is editor, bmj.com