The New Republic is an online and print media outlet covering politics, culture and big ideas. They went to development agency Alley Interactive to launch their new website on Pantheon. Matt Johnson, Managing Partner & Co-founder at Alley Interactive, tells us how the project went.
In 2013, The New Republic was up against their biggest deadline yet—they needed to launch their new website, print magazine redesign, and a related PR campaign all on the same day. Publisher Chris Hughes was set to appear on all the morning talk shows as soon as it went live. They needed a website management solution that could handle a heavy load. Nothing could go wrong.
Pantheon just works. It gives me all the access I need as a very technical person. But it abstracts away all the obnoxious, repetitive crap. The result has better uptime and reliability than anything I’d have built on my own.
When Alley Interactive took on the project, they suggested Pantheon right away. They were able to re-launch The New Republic website to 100 million pageviews on the first day. But it wasn’t easy getting there. Every large website launch has its challenges, and enterprises are tricky. Matt and his team were able to head off potential roadblocks by working closely with the teams at The New Republic and Pantheon.
Planning a Complex Launch on a Tight Timeframe
Clients sometimes assume that developers can make it all happen—they rarely think of project management as a separate discipline. That’s why Alley Interactive raised the subject of switching to Pantheon in their first meeting with The New Republic. The company had to choose between Pantheon and their current Drupal hosting provider for the upcoming launch, a big decision with a lot of stakeholders involved.
When launching a small project with a single stakeholder, a solution that supports layered complexities and requirements is a nice to have. But a big site like The New Republic involves a long chain of people: the Alley Interactive team, the editorial newsroom, and business executives. Each team needed to focus on different aspects of the project, and there was no time to sacrifice for shuffling development servers.
Why Pantheon? One Platform from Day One
It’s time-consuming to set up a high-quality development environment with continuous integration and other automation layers. Alley Interactive needed to focus on working through an enormous pile of dev tickets. They couldn't spare time for anything other than writing Drupal code. So, they spun out a dev site for The New Republic on Pantheon and never had to worry about hosting on their own server.
Without Pantheon, Alley Interactive would have needed to run their dev sites on their own servers or on the client’s internal servers. And launch day could have brought some nasty surprises. Pantheon’s continuous platform let Alley Interactive and The New Republic deploy with confidence.
As they approached launch, Alley Interactive had to do two things simultaneously:
Train the editorial department on new tools
Maintain a breakneck pace building out features
They were furiously committing code to the Pantheon dev branch, while also maintaining the test and live branches at 3 different stages of completion. Alpha, beta, and release.
Pantheon’s pull-submit workflow was instrumental in letting us continue to work on the site as it was, so our clients could train their editorial people. We didn’t have to interrupt our development workflow and mess up the code to test.
Stages of Completion:
The dev site: Anything-goes code workshop.
The test site: Editorial training environment.
The live site: Target for content migration and a showcase for top-of-the-chain stakeholders.
The Big Day
On launch day, Pantheon supported 100 million page views for the new site. Such traffic would have been a big problem for a conventional hosting cluster, but The New Republic and Alley Interactive never had to worry about infrastructure.
The launch was picked up by dozens of publications, including The New York Times, which wrote a story about the site launch and also featured an interview with The New Republic’s founder. Throughout the process, Alley Interactive had two developers and another partner working nights and weekends. All parties went above and beyond.
We also had high-level team members at Pantheon putting in serious time on this. Josh, David, Scott, and Nick were right there in the trenches with us on Saturday night. It was clear how important the project was to them.
Alley Interactive has built a reputation around their can-do attitude, ability to come through under pressure, and long experience in having done so in the past—often on short notice. The New Republic has a certain sense of edge that differentiates them from the crowd, and needed a website that would not only attract their audience, but engage them. Alley interactive was able to deliver, on a deadline, to 100 million pageviews and significant publicity.
Launched to 100 million page views in the first 24 hours
Gives stakeholders instant visibility to see and test changes
Offloads infrastructure management, freeing up the Alley Interactive team to focus on billable hours
One hosting and management provider for a portfolio of clients
Instantly adapts to traffic spikes common in the news media industry