Trying to understand a bit more about the tech world, its intricacies and its offerings, I decided to connect with Vikram Goyal, the tech genius behind DIY blogs CraftBits and CraftGossip. I was surprised to learn that the heavy burden of tech development lied mostly on one man's shoulders. When we're spoiled with all incredibly easy-to-use blogging softwares and services, we don't really think about how complicated it is to actually build such a platform and manage it.
Below is an interview with me picking his brain about what goes on inside a world most of us just think of as a nice readable interface, with incredibly compelling niche content and the occasional ad because we all have to make a living somehow. Coders absolutely fascinate me, and confuse me at the same time because I don't have the strongest technology grounding, therefore I can't have the best appreciation of what's going on in their head, but this is a fairly readable interview with Goyal who wears all the technical hats.
1. What's the make-up of the CraftBits and CraftGossip team? How big is the editorial team compared to the tech team?
Craftbits.com is run by 3 people. I am the tech/business guy and my wife and her mum are the creative brains behind the original ideas on the site.
CraftGossip.com is run by myself as the tech/business guy while my wife looks after running the editors. We currently have 19 editors on board, with everything from bath and body to weddings being covered.
So for both sites, the tech team is me. I do employ other people to do site administration and other tricky stuff, but the bulk of the work lands on my shoulders.
We are very proud of having created two feature rich content sites that are in the top of their genre.
2. As the Technical genius behind DIY communities and sites CraftBits and CraftGossip, what are the intricacies of managing a content site?
Both sites are content sites and therefore, we are spared the issues involved with maintaining a shopfront and dealing with payment gateways, etc. However both Craftbits.com and CraftGossip.com provide many unique challenges, from a technical perspective.
Craftbits.com is built on a custom publishing platform that I built from scratch using Ruby On Rails. In its formative years, I used Java/Struts combinations, but had to move to ROR because of ease of development and the wonderful ecosystem that is built around it, providing many different gems that can make coding a breeze. We use a custom platform because of the various unique challenges that the site provides. Besides the front end that is publicly visible, there is a complex backend that allows my wife, who is the creative genius behind the site and its various ideas, to manage the daily grind of running the site. From creating projects, competitions, approving comments, scheduling, payments and the like, the administrative section of the site allows you to do the whole thing. There is also a cool feature within the backend that allows you to see a live view of the site, where you can see how many people are on the site currently, where they are coming from, and what they are viewing. This is done without using any external library or plugins.
CraftGossip.com is built on a custom Wordpress MultiSite installation. We have several challenges, and Wordpress Multisite is an absolute godsend. Even then, I have had to make several modifications to the core files to cater for unique requirements that this site has. Managing a heavy content site like CraftGossip.com (which you can think of as a Techcrunch for DIY/Craft enthusiasts) is complex because of the number of authors, commentators and the like that hit the site at various times. There are several challenges and sometimes I find that the Wordpress ecosystem is not as quality conscious as the Rails environment.
3. What are some of the more innovative technologies in content publishing that you admire (maybe it's mobile content or apps that make mobile content possible, or awesome plug-ins for CMSs) and what technologies would you want to leverage more of or hope would be improved on?
I am very conscious of the move towards iPad/iPhone based publishing. Apps like Pulse for iPad and iPhone and Flipbook for iPad are redefining how people would consume information in the future, especially for content sites like ours. Without any effort on our part, these apps make content published on our sites look good for the iPhone/iPad.
I evaluated a lot of CMSs before deciding on building a custom app from scratch for Craftbits.com and a custom Wordpress Multisite installation for CraftGossip.com. Drupal, Joomla and Movable Type are some of the ones that come to mind. Wordpress beats them all for its robustness, but it might soon be a victim of its own success if it doesn't do something about enforcing quality of the plugins that are available for it. Another thing that I think Wordpress could improve upon is a caching engine that would work out of the box.
In the future, I hope to be able to use Content Delivery Networks to improve the speed of our sites, which is always challenging.
Being a content site, we rely on brand advertising and hope to have ad serving technology catch up with the rest of the world. Currently, no matter how fast our sites are, it gets ranked poorly for the time it takes for the ads to display. This is something that is out of our control.
Danny Wong is a blogger discovering a bit more about the intricacies of content creation that's not simply having great people write great things, including the world of technology making online publishing possible, content marketing to help me in finding great content, and search engine optimization making sure content I search is always topical and relevant. He is also the co-founder of BLG, a conglomerate running sites BlankLabel.com, ThreadTradition.com and REcustom.com