A Market Emerges

By Brian P. Watson Print this article Print

The publisher wrestled with content management systems and online delivery tools to build The Wall Street Journal into the Web's biggest subscription-based site.

A Market Emerges

Fast-forward to today. Publishers are watching more and more readers consuming their news via the Web, prompting media cognoscenti to speculate on the demise of tabloids and broadsheets. In 1995, only 2% of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press said they logged on to Internet news sites at least three times a week. Ten years later, that number spiked to 31%.

With the growth of the Internet came a crowd of content management software products, with many—from companies like Vignette, Interwoven and Stellent—geared to Web publishing. Their tools were designed to help content providers create and organize stories and features and deliver them to the Web. By the end of 2005, the content management software market exploded, with total revenue reaching $3.2 billion worldwide, according to IDC.

Different operating systems and programming languages, as well as relational databases, were becoming widespread in enterprises, allowing for more flexibility, according to Melissa Webster, program director for content technologies and digital media at IDC. The new software tools offered a timely alternative to proprietary hardware and software bundles many publishers used to generate content on the Web. "It was right in the fray where people were saying technology should be plug-and-play," Webster says. "They were saying, 'We want an open, extensible system. We don't want to be locked in.'"

Budde and his seven developers, led by Ken Ficara, now the company's director of product operations, unveiled their first Web creation, Money & Investing Update, an electronic version of the paper's section covering financial markets, in July 1995. The site was cobbled together using a "rudimentary" combination of technologies, Ficara says. Editors used Microsoft Word macros to edit stories and insert HyperText Transfer Protocol coding, and then saved the articles into a network file system on a Unix server. Then, a number of programming scripts—including Perl, C and shell—pulled pre-written summaries out of stories and posted them on the Web while organizing the order in which stories appeared on the site.

Meanwhile, not everything was going so well for the self-styled electronic publishing mogul. Around the same time Budde began his experiment, Dow Jones hired Electronic Data Systems to build a content management platform for its new operations. That product, dubbed the Global News Management System, was expected to become Dow Jones' vehicle for composing and editing stories and supporting its printing operations.

In April 1996, almost a year after launching the Journal site, the team moved the content management system over to the new platform, which was based on Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), a Web-publishing language. But the system, according to Ficara, was based on a "heavy client, big server" model at a time when technology managers at Dow Jones were taking notice of thin-client Web browsers. Reporters and editors across the print, Web and newswire properties had different needs regarding deadlines and story lengths, but the system used the same coding throughout. "It was everything to everybody," Ficara says, "and nothing to nobody."

NEXT PAGE: Highs and Lows

This article was originally published on 2006-10-02
Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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