The Express Tribune

What on the onset seemed quite trivial actually turned out to be quite hard. The Express Tribune launched just 2 days ago with a stunning paper and a web portal to match.

Building large scale systems like The Express Tribune news portal and turning it around in 6 months requires a team of determined masochists and some really quick thinking. One has to think about scalability, performance, security, architecture and pliability of the product. One also has to think about usability, information architecture and layouts. About user interactivity, community engagement and publication workflows. Integration with television and print and a coherent new media strategy.

But it’s here and it’s far from over. Going in, I was confident that we would easily come out ahead of the competition (whom I have written about here and here) but I never thought I would have so much fun doing it.

The Express Tribune website uses some existing platforms and our developer toolkit is quite powerful, but to get to where we wanted to go, we got neck deep in every aspect of the system.

Beyond being just a pretty website, it has some behind the scenes features where it really shines out. This is where the competition has a lot of catching up to do. For example, assigning headlines and stories to sections or updating the page layout happens directly from the section itself, rather than going in to some specialized administrative screen. The image management and carousels are first class features and not just an after thought. The News in Pictures and slide shows can be done in under 5 minutes. The pages load blazingly fast, because we optimized not only the caching mechanisms but also the web server, database server, application server and even the operating system.

The user interface follows some hard principles. For example, the comment preview feature is painstakingly simple and dynamic so users know exactly how their words will appear. The submit button is below the comment preview by design, so the user is forced to preview on his way to the submit button. The design follows a horizontal rhythm using grid-based layouts. The weather widget updates the weather without having to refresh the page and on the back end we do some very specific caching so we can handle thousands of users, yet provide the latest weather updates or auto updating stock charts. The alerts ticker is directly linked to the Express 24/7 television station which requires some trickery on the part of both, the television platform as well as the web platform.

The interesting bits about strategy are something I cannot talk about other than to say that if the website works well for you and you find yourself interacting more and more, it’s because we put the user first. And in the short and long term both, our strategy will allow us to surpass the competition and out-pace them so we maintain the lead.

With internet penetration growing the way it is, I have no doubt that The Express Tribune portal will provide common ground for a lot of avid readers and have interesting side effects.

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