|Interview with Jack Bremer About theArtsDesk.com|
|Written by Steve Burge|
|Tuesday, 02 March 2010 18:53|
About this Blog
This is the first in a series of blog posts about major Joomla websites and the developers who built them. First up is Jack Bremer and the major U.K. arts website theArtsDesk.com.
1) Hi Jack. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi, and thanks for this opportunity to talk about this exciting project! I'm 29, loving living in London and running digital marketing agency 3B Digital (3bweb.com) with my older brother and business partner, Alex Bremer. Alex set the company up in 1998 after discovering that he could use Microsoft Publisher to build these things called web pages to show photos to family abroad. A little delving into the "code" it was making led to his partnering with a programmer and accountant while he dealt with design. I started working with Alex about 5 years ago and we now have an office in Battersea, London UK, where we employ 3 other people fulltime plus a few freelancers around the world who assist with certain aspects of our work.
I'm passionate about what we do; it's fascinating to get under the skin of a client's company, and much like an accountant or solicitor might, you can ask just about any question of a client - I can best help represent them on the web if I understand their business model, profit margins, unique selling point, current customers and more. The tools we get to play with are such fun too - every day something new comes out for us to play with, usually in the form of something from Google, Facebook or another awesome Joomla extension. Every single day we learn something new and always have at the back of our minds the question, "how could my clients benefit from this?"
2) What or who is theArtsDesk.com?
theartsdesk is a UK-based group of journalists and photographers who saw what was happening in the shinking print-based press and decided they had to take the bull by the horns and go it on their own. They have their "mother superior" in the form of dance critic Ismene Brown, and there are about 40 contributors (called "Deskers") arranged in teams (called "Hubs") who manage the site's content and Google Apps-powered calendars for the various artforms.
3) How did the project with the Arts Desk come about?
3B were suggested to theartsdesk via another 3B client, English National Ballet (ballet.org.uk). theartsdesk liked the fact that 3B understood the arts world, had a strong interest in music (we LOVE live music!) and theatre (Alex and I have both worked backstage at the Palace Theatre in London, and I often stage manage a mad show at Glastonbury Festival, called Twisted Cabaret). We were opinionated about the ways the journalists could develop the site away from static print mimicry into a more dynamic and interactive web format. We share the same experimental attitude to the site development as the journalists, and there was a mutual exchange of ideas that enabled the site to be unusually elegant in a traditional sense and also pioneering in its usability. The relationship is ongoing and continues to spring surprises on both sides!
4) Do you know why they made the decision to use Joomla?
I think it came down to three main factors: price, DIY management and flexibility.
Price: Using Joomla allows us to help clients punch above their weight - in this case the venture was entirely speculative with the journalists raising the money for the site themselves. Being open source was extremely attractive to theartsdesk, and when we showed some examples of the powerful GPL extensions I knew they were beginning to get excited!
DIY management: again for economic reasons, it was necessary for the journalists to run the site totally themselves - and it works extremely well: we gave one 3 hour tutorial to 14 of them, who then shared their new-found knowledge with the others through screencasts and instructions put into Google Docs and Sites. We rarely take any calls from the 40 or so that are adding to the site every day - they just get on with it, and come back to us for new functionality.
Flexibility: We have found Joomla to be so scalable and choose it over any other system for all sizes of sites. theartsdesk were excited by the wide variety of extensions, the ability to easily add third-party tools and the potential for us to build them custom components should they have very specific requirements. The site has to make money, which is mostly in the form of banner adverts - something Joomla handles out-of-the-box. The democracy of open-source appealed, but above all it was the multi-categorising feature that was important, to enable copy to be filtered by artform, type, author, tag and so on, following the many ways that users choose to stream their reading - this requirement led us to the game-changing discovery of K2...
5) What extensions did you use in building the site?
This site, despite its size, has a very simple collection of extensions, and here are the most important ones:
6) What major obstacles did you come across when building the site?
Learning K2 for the first time, on a large site with very specific requirements was a challenge at times - I try whenever possible to only use tools we know well on any site build, but K2 was so new we had to just jump in and start building it! As I've mentioned, hosting issues arose pretty quickly, but as soon as we teamed up with Rochen hosting, all was well - their awesome MVS package eats up a chunk of monthly site revenue, but is an area you mustn't skimp on.
Another obstacle is something I'm sure is familiar to all Joomla developers - trying to ensure the right modules and templates appear on the right pages - usually it's quite easy but in this site, you can navigate to an article in many many ways, so ensuring they have the right Itemid to show the correct right column content and background was tricky - although articles only exist in one category, they will often have several tags - and it's these tags that we want to use to determine the look of the page. Tags don't show in a URL or have any heirarchy, so having the site understand which tag to use as the main one for an article required educating the journalists and tweaking code. It's still a work in progress, and we often change the exact functionality when an update to K2 comes out.
7) Any features or extensions you wish you'd had?
I know they'd like to be able to easily manage video clips that they can edit and deploy easily in their articles. I might have to give the Joomla-friendly video solutions from kaltura.com a try! I think a K2 archive with alphabetical navigation would be great, and if I could think of a way to have a music player (I know, I know, but it's relevant to theartsdesk, and wouldn't start automatically!) that plays while you navigate the site but doesn't involve Flash, popups or frames they'd be very happy!
Apart from those, we've been been quite lucky in that most of their requests have been easily fulfilled through the power of Joomla and its various extensions. Almost every requirement has been a simple case of switching on, tweaking some CSS and letting them play - I often find myself building functionality for them during meetings and it's always a pleasure to end a meeting with only a tiny to-do-list because you've done it all while you were chatting!
8) I hear the site won a few awards ...
The site has received some fantastic feedback and recognition - BBC Radio 5 nominated it alongside Google Streetmaps and Spotify as one of the top 5 essential sites of 2009! The Telegraph Online voted it as the number 4 in their selection of the best cultural websites, and the Independent put it among the top 25 music websites. Particularly gratifying though was the reception we received from Joomlaworks when we launched the site built with their K2 component - the screengrab still sits at the top of their article about K2 sites that stand out.
The site receives 2000 visitors per day, predominantly within the UK (75%), followed by the USA (11%). 62% come via the search engines, and it's always fascinating to see which reviews are trending each week. I think these stats are quite impressive given that nothing has been spent on marketing, and the only ongoing SEO is done onsite by the journalists with the simple tools that JCE editor makes so easy.
9) What's next for 3B Digital?
Well, party due to my overactive Twitter account I've really enjoyed becoming more involved with some of my Joomla heroes, regularly chatting with Brian Teeman and Fotis Evangelou among others, and hope to meet more of you at the J and Beyond international Joomla conference in Germany this May/June. As a company, we've never been more excited about the future - digital marketing seems to be an industry that is riding a wave right now - - warning, massive exaggeration coming up - companies aren't advertising in print, TV or radio anymore, and online spend is only going one way - up! As more and more people want more functionality and performance from their web presence we're seeing the Internet grow up, and those of us developing and designing within it are having to rise to the challenge!
About This Interview
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