Case Study

The Scale and Speed Behind iOne Digital’s Massive Reach

WordPress.com VIP’s managed platform, code review, and expert guidance power iOne Digital’s massive network of sites through every viral hit.

iOne Digital is the leading online platform centered in black culture, with 24 million monthly unique visitors to its large network of sites, along with millions of social media followers and video viewers. Founded in 2008 as the digital arm of Urban One, Inc, iOne Digital quickly outgrew its original self-hosted WordPress platform and sought expert guidance and support to strengthen the services on which its growth relies. iOne’s legacy codebase brought with it potential limits to performance and scale. There were growing needs to manage the syndication of content smoothly across sites. Varying themes and tools made maintenance and support unnecessarily complex and burdensome. It was challenging to develop and deploy new sites rapidly. Further, traffic was unpredictable and difficult to manage, with huge spikes coming from content going viral at a moment’s notice.

iOne turned to WordPress.com VIP in 2012 to address these challenges and help them build a single, integrated platform for its content. They chose to implement a single common theme for all sites, in order to streamline development and to make all features available across the network. That way, as new features or new integrations like Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP become available, the entire network of sites can immediately take advantage of them.

Even though the theme standardized the technical approach behind the sites, it was built to accommodate a wide range of design choices so that each site would retain its unique look and feel. This ensured that new and acquired sites could become part of the network without increasing the complexity of the codebase. It also created a rapid pathway for launching entirely new sets of sites.

The process of developing the unified theme and migrating all of the network’s content to the new system was quick and easy, considering the number of sites and the volume of content involved:

“After we stabilized the code we wanted for the common theme (about a month of work), we were able to roll out 60 live sites with WordPress.com VIP in 3 weeks.”

Grant Cerny, Chief Product Officer

With the confidence of VIP’s expert code review supporting behind their work, the iOne team also developed new workflow tools to match the needs of the editorial teams. The article editor itself was streamlined to follow the steps involved in publishing and managing posts, assets, and sections. A custom-built syndication tool in the WordPress admin allows editors to choose to subscribe to content categories, or to easily select individual pieces to share nationally. And another innovative tool eliminated uncertainty among editors about image rights by creating a single repository for images that have been approved to be used across the network.

The WordPress.com VIP infrastructure delivered the rock-solid performance and effortless scaling the network needed. Cerny notes how important this factor was to the iOne Digital team: “Uptime was one of the biggest selling points of WordPress.com VIP. We have huge spikes of traffic (for example, when Whitney Houston passed) as a lot of our content goes viral with our users on social networks, and VIP’s infrastructure is able to sustain those with no changes on our end; it just works!”

iOne Digital relies on VIP’s code review, support, and infrastructure so it can keep its process streamlined, its in-house engineering team small and focused, and its code base secure. As Cerny put it, We needed agility, we needed stability, and we needed security. We’ve got all three of those now with WordPress.com VIP, so now we can focus on the business part of our business instead of the infrastructure.”

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