Highs and Lows

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.

Highs and Lows

A year after implementing the system, Dow Jones ripped

it out. In the fourth quarter of 1998, the company took a $17.3 million charge from writing off the system. In its quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dow Jones reported that while the system did add functionality to the staff's desktops, it would cost more to reconfigure the system than to scrap it and buy an off-the-shelf product.

In the interim, the Web site pushed ahead, adding a technology news section and real-time ticker of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But its homegrown content management system started hitting a wall in 1999, according to Bill Godfrey, who became chief information officer that February.

Page views were on the rise, but the system struggled to meet demand, he says. Systems outages each month spanned a few minutes to an hour. Since Dow Jones didn't have built-in redundancy, the team had to reboot machines every time an outage took place. "They were not trivial," Godfrey says.

Godfrey and company tried to fix the problem by turning off personalization features and portfolio settings, but soon realized the site needed a shot in the arm to handle the growing Web traffic.

So in 1999, the online Journal got a $28 million face lift. The team wanted to introduce more personalization features and article "tagging," which would improve search capabilities while overhauling the site's appearance for the first time.

The company stuck with its homegrown content management tools, but looked to a third party for the software needed to redesign the site and boost personalization. The team picked tools from Vignette because, Ficara says, its software could scale to handle the more dynamic pages Dow Jones wanted to offer as well as increased personalization options.

Vignette's Content Management Server software did just that—for a while. The Journal site saw a 43% spike in subscriptions following the redesign and implementation of the Vignette software, jumping from 375,000 paid users at the end of 1999 to 535,000 at the end of the 2000 calendar year.

But as Web traffic continued to grow—the subscriber base jumped another 17%, to 626,000, in 2001 and swelled to 712,000 by the end of 2004—the Vignette software ran into the same problems as the homegrown product: As page views increased, the software couldn't load pages fast enough to meet demand.

By the end of 2004, the Dow Jones team reviewed its options. The choice, says Premal Parikh, the company's application technology director, was either to invest in an upgrade of the Vignette product or move to a different platform. According to Parikh, the team decided to move to an open platform to save on infrastructure and licensing costs. Vignette's Milne speaks glowingly of Dow Jones and its success in building the Journal site, but says the publisher would have been better off had it incorporated Vignette's content management tools along with its delivery products.

So again, in early 2005, Dow Jones found itself dumping vendor-built software, returning to its homegrown solution. "It worked well when we first started," Parikh says of Vignette. "But then we reached the tipping point to try to figure out if we wanted to do something different."

And they did do something different: In 2004, Dow Jones moved to an open-source framework built on Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition, an application development environment, to bolster its Web offering. Currently the team is migrating from a Sun operating system to Linux.

To boost the development effort, this year the company established Dow Jones Labs, a team of about 70 application developers charged with creating new products like podcasts and advanced search engines for the Journal and MarketWatch sites.

The change in framework, according to Godfrey, came with a change in philosophy. In 1995, he says, 80 cents of every dollar went into building and supporting infrastructure for the site, with the rest going to product development. Today, that ratio has almost flipped 180 degrees—70% now goes into development, and 30% to infrastructure costs.

The company is now considering a service-oriented architecture approach to bolster new product creation. "Back in 1995, we were firefighters more than we were product developers," Godfrey says. "That's all changed now."

At A Glance: Dow Jones & Co. Headquarters: 1 World Financial Center, New York, NY 10281
Phone: (212) 416-2000
URL: www.dowjones.com
Business: Publisher of business news and financial information via properties like The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, MarketWatch.com and Dow Jones Newswires.
Chief Information Officer: Bill Godfrey
Financials in 2005: $1.77 billion in revenue, $60.4 million in profit.

NEXT PAGE: Content Management Then and Now

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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