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A new website for Nouse

The Nouse website has a brand new look: the Technical Director explains what’s new and what’s behind it all

I'm really proud to unveil a new website for Nouse this morning, encompassing both a new look and new software powering it.

Nouse has had a website since 2003 and this latest iteration is designed to reflect the changing way our users consume our content - some of the key motivations for development of a new site included an increased mobile presence as more of our page-views move to mobile, improving our ability to support large traffic spikes at key times such as during YUSU Elections and sports competitions, and providing a platform that supports our editors in uploading their content by improving the speed, reliability and simplicity of the administration interface. 

Image shows the previous website, running the "skeleton" theme from 2015

The previous site was built on the WordPress platform but included a number of custom plugins developed by previous technical directors to tweak the site to our needs (see Website Credits for a list of some of those who've worked on iterations of this site).

As Nouse has grown year on year so has the complexity of the website, and we now serve around 500 unique visitors a day, with over 3 million requests made in the last 30 days. As we looked towards serving increasing amounts of live content (such as our trials of election coverage with the US Midterms), video and sports statistics we found that WordPress was holding us back.

Interestingly the increased number of plugins were also hampering the ability of our editors to upload articles quickly and issues during the first production week for the new 2018-19 editors brought things to a head as the server repeatedly crashed as the new edition was distributed and up-time dropped to below 95%. The new site focuses on displaying Nouse's collection of 19,892 online articles at its core, whilst also allowing us to deliver specialised content with complete creative control.

The hope is that by moving away from WordPress we can do more as we're not confined by a generic content management system and that we can also optimise it to our needs so it can handle our traffic volumes at as small a cost as possible without crashing. 

The new admin interface has been designed to nurture a smooth transition from WordPress with a similar layout of menus, but also breaks away with a completely new article editing interface to allow editors and writers to focus on their articles not on navigating a maze of check-boxes. The admin interface also keeps track of who our editors and writers are in a central place - with security and permissions management being combined with the display output that shows a users's positions in the society next to their articles - significantly reducing administration burden and providing an intriguing historical record.

Login is now integrated with Nouse and the Universities' GSuite for Business accounts, meaning our editors can login with their University passwords instead of a separate password as was previously the case.

In technical terms the website has been written broadly from scratch in the language PHP using the twig templating engine and a MySQL database hosted on virtual machines in Slough, UK by DigitalOcean.

Both admin and public interfaces use heavily modified commercially available themes with JQuery principally powering dynamic content in the browser. Due to high page load the front-end uses edge caching from Cloudflare leveraging an aggressive cache ratio with individual files manually purged when content is changed on our admin interface to ensure our content is up to date when it needs to be. This significantly reduces the burden on our servers, and therefore cost to our free newspaper.

Images and files are hosted as an entirely separate system centrally stored using a DigitalOcean Spaces bucket (currently containing 223,974 files) - a drop in Amazon S3 replacement. 

I hope you enjoy the new website, and if you spot any issues or have a suggestion please don't hesitate to get in touch with me at support@nouse.co.uk.

We're also looking to grow our technical team to work on exciting new projects for the website - if you're interested drop tech@nouse.co.uk an email.

Thanks go out to all the previous Technical Directors for their work in building the Nouse digital empire and documenting it so well and to the senior team (Joe, Chay, Andrew, Saskia) for putting up with countless bizarre random ideas, for always giving detailed, helpful feedback whilst persevering with testing horrendously broken features and for building the bid for the grant funding that makes the project possible. 

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