Achieve Internet is proud to have been an integral part of the development process for the new FastCompany.com business community site. We provided custom Drupal software development and project management leadership to deliver a world-class union of award winning journalism and online community. The site incorporates a professional grade content management system and editorial workflow controls, along with a full suite of cutting edge Web 2.0 applications. While there have already been a number of press releases on the site launch, we wanted to dive deeper into some of the unique features of the site on which we, the Lullabots, Advomatic and Treehouse brought Drupal to bear.
Feed Aggregation and RSS Reader
Perhaps the most unique and complex feature of the site revolves around how FastCompany.com deals with RSS feeds. While most sites provide links to RSS feeds of nearly all their content, FastCompany.com has more robust approach. While most of the content on the site can still be received via RSS, of course, there's also a built in, customizable reader for "internal" (i.e. fastcompany.com posts) and "external" (i.e. feeds from everywhere else) content.
In addition, the reader can be configured to show headlines only or full posts, organize feeds into various categories and provide a way to suggest feeds to the editorial staff to feature on the site. Latest posts are featured on the My Home page and feeds are periodically refreshed by default or can be refreshed on demand via the My Feeds page.
Another area in which FastCompany.com pushes the envelope is search. There are a number of customized searches on the site that use a combination of the Views Fast Search module, some custom search algorithms and extensive custom theming of search results and filters. In addition to the "basic" site search and sectional searches (Find People, Find Blogs, etc) which use a combination of Views Fast Search and heavily customized theming, there is also a completely custom advanced search that combines multiple boolean options with content type, date, taxonomy and custom filters. Essentially, the site comes as close as possible to having true faceted search using the Drupal search indexes and data structure.
Of course, search features are good, but they aren't enough for a site that gets the level of traffic received by FastCompany.com. Currently we're seeing page load times of under six seconds for even the most complex search combinations, returning the largest datasets. Typical keyword searches return results in 2 - 3 seconds. While we certainly wouldn't take on Google, these results are competitive with LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, etc.
One shortcoming of some of the more typical social networking sites is the lack of ability to immediately feel connected. Given FastCompany.com's tight business focus, it was envisioned that this problem could be solved by suggesting content (members, blogs, events, groups, etc.) that the a member might find interesting, based on member profile information. This type of algorithmic data mining can be very effective but can also be complex and highly database intensive. The FastCompany.com "suggestion engine" runs a series of queries that, while not simple, are designed to be as lightweight as possible to create tables of suggested, accepted and dismissed nodes. Members are shown content that they should find relevant on their My Home page so they can become immediately engaged in the community.
Finally, Drupal is a CMS and, as such, we need to consider enhancements to the publishing platform. In addition to a great content promotion tool called Slot Machine, created by Marco at Advomatic, we've added the latest (and greatly improved) version of Asset Manager to the site. Also included was a custom set of scripts to ingest content from Fatwire, the publishing tool used for the print magazine and previous version of FastCompany.com. This system greatly aided in speeding up the initial data transfer from the previous site and will be used on an ongoing basis to incorporate content from the print publication.
Many thanks go to Lullabot for their great work with performance tuning, strategic consulting and late night fire extinguishing; Treehouse, for their usual great job of theming; Advomatic for help on the publishing tools; Tom Achtemichuk from FastCompany.com, who's become a Drupal rock star; and, of course, Ed, Paul, Nicole, Bekah and the rest of the Mansueto Digital team for allowing us to be involved in such a great project.