Meet the YLE: Drupal at the Finnish national broadcaster
by Jeffrey A. McGuire
The Finnish national broadcasting company, YLE, must be one of the earliest institutional adopters of Drupal. They go all the way back to 2004 and Drupal 4.3! At the time, the YLE wanted community websites and commissioned Carl-Magnus Dumell, through the IT company he was working for at the time, to find a PHP-based product to launch their social web presence.
Carl-Magnus Dumell - How did you choose Drupal in 2004?
Even back then, "Drupal was without a doubt, the best solution there. When we looked under the hood, it was beautiful. The sheer fact that it had documentation, that it had style guides for software developers and how to contribute and write your own code for it; you could see that it was done by adults, or at least with some adult supervision involved and that wasn't so obvious with some of the others."
Quality v. quantity
"Drupal didn't have a lot of features in 2004, but it had a lot of potential. We knew we were selecting a system that we would gave to live with for a lot of years ... someone had put a lot of thought into it, it was structured, it was designed. We knew that it was something we could live with."
"In hindsight, I'm pretty proud about the decision to choose Drupal, because our idea about Drupal turned out to be correct."
"The competition is tougher today, but Drupal is still good in the ways it was back then."
The importance of making good choices
"Once you make a decision in a large and complicated organization, once you start using something, you're going to have to live with it [for a long time]." This has consequences ranging from the longevity and viability of a given technology, to differences in cost and investment when comparing open source and proprietary solutions.
Sami Kallinen - The new broadcasting
Sami Kallinen, the head of the web for the minority, Swedish language section of the YLE talks about Drupal's role in the the strategic, planning and implementation processes for a broadcasting company to start producing content with a web-first approach.
Centering on a single technology
The Swedish division of the YLE was trying to run and maintain between 5 and 20 home-brew site systems that were increasingly difficult to maintain. At one point, they fell victim to the notorious 'Truck Test' when the lead developer of a particular site system left for a competitor and no one else knew how to develop that system any further. This was the signal that it was time to consolidate all the systems and they chose Drupal.
Mobile first, content-driven structures
Following a lot of careful research, hiring, consultation, and planning the Swedish division of the YLE launched svenska.yle.fi on Drupal. It is a fantastic, mobile-first, responsive-designed news site. The YLE Swedish team created a specialized "flat" editorial workflow that allows them to enter content once, then use and re-use it as "promos" and in larger collections of content across various parts of the site. Anyone among the hundreds of people in the Swedish content team can create new items and publish them anywhere on the site within 5 minutes: from local traffic jams, to breaking news, to the Eurovision Song Contest. The content team builds the site, not the technical people.
Carl-Magnus Dumell - Drupal is a multiplier
Carl Magnus talks about the benefits of using community-driven software in the enterprise: "It's easy to find people who know the system. If you need a team to work on a Drupal site, even with quite short notice, you'll find really skilled people.
Also, the sharing of best practices and so on, that's a great benefit.
One of the things we learned quite early on was the support of the community, that you don't have to invent the wheel yourself each time ..."
Drupal history: OG origin story
... at this point Carl-Magnus started telling an astonishing and wonderful story; a piece of Drupal history I hadn't known: One of the first Drupal sites the YLE built needed a gallery module and a "club" module. It was a children's site where kids could create their own clubs, "a princess club or cute-horses club and then invite their friends and have their own club page that would be visible only for the club members." Check out what Carl-Magnus says here, "I contacted all the people listed as core developers and asked if they could help us out ..." Wow! 2004 calling ... " ... and Moshe Weizmann was available ..." It worked! This was a valid strategy back then! " ... and created a module called Organic Groups that worked out quite well, that became quite popular ..." the Finns are masters of understatement! I had goose bumps by now. I was sitting with the guy who commissioned OG! And I never would have guessed in a million years that it was originally built for a Finnish national television children's build-your-own-pony-club spin-off site. Amazing.
Drupal: The more you give, the more you get
This is a very early example of corporate funded Drupal development that directly benefitted the community and countless other users and clients over the years. The YLE drew a lesson from this this remains valid and compelling to this day: "Hey, we had to pay for the first version, but we get the following versions for free ... because someone else continues our work."
- YLE was the generous host of Drupal Camp Helsinki 2012.
- I spoke with:
- Yle's Swedish language news site can be found at http://svenska.yle.fi
- Here is Sami Kallinen's Drupal Camp presentation about the Swedish YLE web reform process: http://www.slideshare.net/sakalli/svenska-yledrupalcampfijune2012
- Here is a presentation about the development of svenska.yle.fi's mobile first/responsive design: http://www.slideshare.net/seiplax/case-svenskaylefi-as-a-mobile-first-re...