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May

2010

Interview with Paul Hosking About ITWire.com
Written by Steve Burge   
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 03:24

About this Blog

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts about major Joomla websites and the developers who built them.

This week we're talking with Paul Hosking about his role with iTWire.com, a major Australian technology website.

1) Hi Paul. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Paul HoskingI'm 44 years old and I'm the Site Director and a co-founder of iTWire.com, I work remote in a very picturesque part of the Victorian country side, Mount Macedon with my family, wife, three kids and a dog. I graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1994 with a degree in music, media and one semester of computer studies (introduction to Microsoft office on a Mac). I first came in contact with the internet in 1995 whilst working in a Media department at the University of Melbourne, my mind was blown ... ever since then I've been hooked. By 1998 I was teaching first years how to code html, pretty basic stuff but it wasn't long before one of my drop outs came back to tell me that he'd got a job in web design based on several weeks of my course and that he was earning 4 times what I was. I resigned that week, got a client and started making web sites freelance. It was challenging work and hard to make a living when starting out. I eventually learnt how to build pretty good flat html sites. That worked for a while though the business model was straining; I build site, you pay me, you want change, you pay me and so on. Not great, there had to be a better way.

At that time I started to see sites appearing that had "amazing" technology like a search box. How do they do that? I thought. View source, umm what's this Mambo thing? Life, work and web sites were never going to be the same. From then on I built every site within a content management system (CSM), to varying levels of success and built a new business model around user updates and open source CMS. This is how I came to build the first iteration of iTWire, The Beerfiles (IT news blog) which first introduced me to online news. Since then I've moved further and further away from development becoming purely a high level user. I have found my skills are devoted to geting the best people possible to help me with development and hosting. Even though I still do CSS layout most days, I now avoid cutting php code as much as possible.

2) Who or what is ITWire.com?

iTWire is a free news service, based in Australia with 20 journalists around the globe contributing breaking news from the world of IT and Telecommunications. iTWire is a partnership between 3 journalists and myself as the technologist.  We email 16,000 newsletters to our readers 5 days a week, and have more than 15,000 visitors a day to our site, making us the most popular independent IT news site in Australia, We fund the operation with advertising in its various forms. iTWire also proudly uses Joomla! as our CMS.

ITWire.com

3) Do you know why Joomla was chosen for the site?

Aside from my long history with Joomla!,  I still believe that joomla! is the superior CMS for what we do. Allowing us to innovate with our presentation and expand our offering easily and cost effectively.

Most of our competitors are using custom built CMS's, with all sorts of exotic engines and the well staffed teams required to support them. Nothing they do is better than what Joomla can do for us. Joomla's flexibility allow us to innovate with our presentation so we tend to gather flattering replicas of our layout. Other times we use the power of Joomla to keep up with others. My favorite example of this was when I got a special announcement email from one of iTWire's competitors announcing their new IT events calendar, we're normally the innovators so I was a bit put out being beaten to the punch on this one. No problem, by 4pm that day I'd installed JCal Pro, emailed my PR contacts and had it populated with more events than our competitors.  To this day we still have the most comprehensive IT events listing in Australia.

4) What extensions do you use for the site?

  • DisplayNews by BK: I love this module, it forms the basis of our layout. The front page, newsletter and all the index pages look like they do because of DisplayNews by BK. Because it's being updated it just keeps getting better, although we're looking at expanding it to work with our own tags extension.
  • Custom Google news map component: Essential for all news sites.
  • Custom Statistics Component: Some of our articles have readership counts (old skool concept but it's still popular)
  • Custom forum comment component: Super clever component that converts article comments into forum posts, best way to build an active forum community on the back of news.
  • Feed2Post: Only has limited use on iTWire but it does it's job well.
  • RSS Feed Creator by foobla: Essential tool for making custom RSS feeds
  • JCal Pro: It's standard and does its job
  • Custom Tags component: Let's us make news categories on the fly bringing together content from different sections/categories that are related. We needed something simple that wouldn't use too many resources so we had build our own.
  • Custom AJAX Tabs Module: Gives a small footprint and resource load but delivers heaps of information, real-estate is at a premium on iTWire we try to sell every pixel, so if we can cram more information in to less space it's a good thing.
  • Still looking for the best related articles module!

5) What major obstacles have you come across?

Migrating to Joomla 1.5 .... iTWire was running Joomla! 1.1x up until January this year. First we had to migrate our custom extensions then the content. As well as design a template and build additional custom extensions from scratch. The issue of migration also went well beyond work with Joomla! we had to deal with the changes to index pages URL's and the issues this caused. Our brillant joomla! development team created a custom component that would feed the articles from the existing running joomla 1.1x site into the new joomla! 1.5 site at the flick of a switch, this way when we looked at the dev site we could always see the latest news, this really helps with realising our vision to show visitors a home page that summarises everything that it happening on iTWire today. That is why we call our home page "Today on iTWire" and not "Home".

6) How successful has the site been as a whole?

I would describe iTWire as as unbelievable success we really have taken an idea from cottage industry beginnings to become a player in the world of IT news. We're more than just a Joomla site - we're a successful business. We have many things planned for the future and we will continue to fine tune our Joomla! with minor changes every day always improving.