Tech Web Site Receives Facelift

In 1993, The Tech proudly became the first newspaper published on the Web, taking the lead in providing news content to the online masses. However, despite being the public face of one of the leading technological universities in the world, in recent years The Tech would be the first to admit its Web service was lacking in style, timeliness, and usability. Well, not anymore.

On Friday, April 6, as the newspaper slipped to the presses in the early hours of the morning, The Tech's new Web site was launched, completely redesigned from the outdated layout which had gone primarily untouched for almost a decade. The site debuted with many marked improvements, including a new layout (powered by CSS, a stylesheet that formats the site), pages for individual sections, and photos with better integrated content.

The site also contains a few subtle improvements that The Tech hopes will better users' experience on the site. These include an RSS feed, breadcrumbs (such as Volume 127 >> Issue 17) at the top of the page to provide easier navigation, and all legacy content imported into the new layout for continuity.

Many improvements have already been made to the site since it went online Friday, including better treatment of photos with articles, new content on the front page, and a dynamic photo gallery. Look for further improvements to be made over time, including more article tools to e-mail or share articles, better search features to search by writer or topic, and suggested related content to articles.

The most significant upgrade to the Web site, besides its new look and feel, is the dynamic backend. The site is powered by MySQL, a common open source database, that stores and organizes all of its content. The site also uses the Web scripting language PHP to dynamically pull content from the database and display it on the page. This also means that HTML pages that had were previously manually edited, such as the page that displays past issues, will now be updated immediately.

The process of publishing to the Web has become more automated over the years, reaching a point today where publishing takes no more than a few clicks and, hopefully, minor manual edits. The new site is the culmination of a series of attempts over the past decade to upgrade, all of which have failed until now. The most recent redesign process began two summers ago when The Tech transitioned its publishing software from the Quark Publishing System and Quark XPress 4.0 to Adobe InDesign CS and InCopy CS. The process of archiving issues to the Web site with the old Quark system was quite laborious, often taking hours of work.

With the switch to Adobe, The Tech also began using Smart Connection Enterprise, a content management system, to control its workflow. The entire archiving process begins with a Perl script querying Smart Connection's databases to find articles to archive, keeping track of relevant metadata to route content to appropriate sections. It then applies XSL stylesheets to InCopy files (which Adobe stores natively in XML), resulting in a series of XML files formatted specifically for Tech content. These are then parsed and imported into the MySQL tables on the web server, and from there, PHP on does the rest.

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