Sharon Waxman, a former Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times, has a new Hollywood News site called In 2008, Sharon and her team reviewed various content management platforms for the news site and after considering the various available options, decided to use Drupal as their content management platform.

In July 2008, Appnovation Technologies was chosen to develop the site. The site development went through various iterations of development cycle, and the site was completed in December 2008. The site was launched on January 19th.

In February, the site had over 130,000 visits and 650,000 page views. In just one month, it grew to over 240,000 unique visits and over 900,000 page views.

Site Functionalities

Like most news sites, has article, column and blog areas. Part of the site's focus is in unifying community features with extensive site content. All site content must be categorized and easily maintainable. Publishing control is a critical feature for the newsroom team. As a result, the feature set for the site includes a ranking system for controlling the position of the articles in the listing areas.

The site includes a number of community featuers, including user profiles, private messaging and user groups. Social networking features are planned as part of phase 2.

Module Use

There are over 90 modules used for the site including over 27 custom modules.

Contributed Module

CCK and Views are used to manage and display the content types. There are 9 main content types for the site including Pages, Columns, Column Posts, Blogs, Blog Posts, Articles, Slideshows, Headline and Profile. Most of these are simple content types. Most content areas are provided by custom views, with the exception of some front-page display blocks where the editorial staff need complete control. Custom modules display information in these block areas.

FCK is used as the WYSIWYG editor, as we have found it to be more user friendly and reliable than TinyMCE.

To improve the user-friendliness of the site, the Live Search module provides instant search results.

The ThickBox module displays the slide shows, allowing visitors to view the slide shows without leaving the main page. Social links have been added to most content pages using the ShareThis module. And, as a news site, providing printer friendly pages is a critical function.

For SEO purposes, meta tags are configured using the Meta Tags module and the Path Auto module is used to provide more structured URLs. The Site map module has also been installed on the site.

Five Star and Vote up/down provide the article voting, and users may add friends to their user profiles via the Buddy list module.

Custom Modules

To provide editorial control over the ranking of article content, a custom module allows the editors to easily change the rankings. Most of the block areas on the front page, including the Columns, Hollyblogs and Rumor Mill, are powered by custom modules, allowing editors to control the content without using HTML.

Other custom modules provide extensive reporting functions, and allow editors to easily track the publishing status of the system.

Optional Core Modules

The aggregator, blog, blog API, contact, poll and menu modules are used.

Site Traffic Spikes

The site has experienced a number of traffic spikes. The first traffic spike occured on March 22nd when Yahoo Entertainment added a link to a blog entry on This traffic spike increased the daily site traffic to over 20,000 unique visits. There were over 2,000 users on the site at one point during that day. Another traffic spike occurred on March 30th when The Huffington Post and IMDB added two links to the site.

Handling Traffic Spikes

While extensive caching had already been implemented on, including the use of APC, basic Drupal caching and Results Cache for various content listings such as the columns page, Varnish was enabled on these two days to handle the traffic spike.

Custom Caching

The "Most Popular" box is a key feature of the site. Without caching, the queries used for this feature are quite slow even after optimization. As a solution, the site uses an automated Cron job to create an XML file that stores the results of the queries. The "Most Popular" content is then displayed using the XML information, reducing database usage.

Publishing Work Flow

As a publishing site with multiple writers and editors, needed a full-featured publishing control system that allows new articles, blog posts, column posts to be created and edited in a streamlined process. The key feature of the work flow is the ability to track multiple versions of new content, allowing the company to publish content without having to move it between different media.

Using WorkFlow and the Revision Moderation modules, a system with five roles has been created. The roles include super user, writer, editor, blogger and columnist. Bloggers and columnists may only edit their own blog or column. Writers may only create, but not publish, content. Editors and super users may publish content. There is also a system that allows editors to locate all new articles to be published.

Project Management

BaseCamp is used for most project management tasks while Trac provides bug tracking. WebEX is used extensively for information sharing.

Drupal Version

The site is currently powered by Drupal 5. Back in July, 2008, the Views module was only released in stable condition for Drupal 5. This was also true for the CCK. As a news site which uses a variety of content types and needs to be deployed quickly, Views and CCK is critical to make this happen. This is the key reason why we decided to go with Drupal 5 when we started the project. Also, back in July 2008, pretty much none of the contributed modules that are used for site were available for Drupal 6.

Upgrade to Drupal 6 is on the road map. They key reason for the planned upgrade is the improved usability in Drupal 6. has large team of editorial staff members but not all team members have extensive technical knowledge. As a result, usability for the content management interface is really important. Drupal 6 has drag and drop functionalities that will help the editorial team manage the menu and content blocks. Drupal 6 also has built in Actions and Triggers that will allow us to easily enhance the publishing work flow functionalities. This will allow editorial team to better manage their content creation and moderation process. Finally, Drupal 6 has more optimized core modules. As a content rich site, this will allow the site to run more efficiently.


The site is hosted by RackSpace on two redundant servers, running Red Hat Linux, Apache 2 and MySQL 5. Weekly complete backups and continuous backups are implemented on the servers.


All site advertising is positioned and managed by the Burst Media network, which provides extensive analytics and impressions management tools.


watbe’s picture

Nice case study, quite informative, thanks a lot.

One small mistake however;

The site was completed in December 2009 and was launched on January 19th.

Arnold Leung’s picture

oops let me correct it.

Thanks for pointing that out.


mradcliffe’s picture

"has a new Hollywood New site called"

should be

"has a new Hollywood News site called"

Arnold Leung’s picture

Thanks. Its been fixed.


abdu’s picture

Great capsule writeup,
Thanks for sharing in brief

One Small Correction

Back in July, 2008, the Views module was only released in stable condition for Drupal 5. This was also true for the CCK.

I hope you mean stable condition for Drupal 6

Arnold Leung’s picture

I actually do mean Drupal 5.


wescoughlin’s picture

To provide editorial control over the ranking of article content, a custom module allows the editors to easily change the rankings

Ha, very hilarious!

Excellent review though!!! Thanks

malexandria’s picture

Great Writeup, not to be crass but how much does something like this cost and how long does it take? Was there any legacy content you had to deal with? I have to admit that I don't like the design at all, it's really busy with all of that Red. But nice work on the layout and everything else.

Arnold Leung’s picture

I cannot disclose the cost for the project, but I can tell you that it was about 500 hours of work to get the initial site up and then another 120 hours to get the publishing work flow system and the custom content management interfaces developed. The actual development took about 3 months. This excludes any design work which was done by We had to migrate a few hundred blog posts from the TypePad system. Feel free to contact me if you need more info.


malexandria’s picture

This is good, what did you do about the posting interface, did you customize TinyMC at all and what about Image posting? Most journalist are nubes, so what did you do about making posting as dead simple as possible? Oh and how did the site get featured on Yahoo and Huff was it because of her connections or through SEO discovery?

Arnold Leung’s picture

We are using the FCK Editor with IMCE. There has been challenges with FCK though in terms of pasting from word which most journalist use.

We tweaked FCK quite a few times to make the spacing work. We have multiple user roles and most user roles have all the un-necessary settings such as commenting options hidden.

The Yahoo and Huff post links are part of their business development effort, I dont think that it is related to SEO.


seutje’s picture

nice case study, but all the images link to the main page and not to the image :(

lpt6’s picture

Great Sharing, really appreciate with the detail process

My Blog:

saltcod’s picture

Thanks for the writeup - the site represents great functionality and its interesting to read about sites that get 100K+ hits with regularity.

However, I can't help but think that a full-time, dedicated designer would have made the whole thing a lot better to look at. I want to be critical here, not negative, when I say that the site looks somewhat mashed together. I think the potential for this site to look polished like NYMag exists, and I think if it did you'd really have a winning combination.

For me, the design looks to be right out of a standard template, with little modification to make it 'your own'. Again, my goal here is not to troll and be negative, but rather to provide what I hope is useful feedback as you go forward.


Arnold Leung’s picture

Thanks for your feedback. The design will most likely change when we launch Phase 2 in a few months.


LuxuriaMusic’s picture

Thank you for the write-up. Do you have specifics on the sizing of the back-end servers, architecture for load balancing etc that you can provide? Maybe even cost from Rackspace and/or plan type.

We are having big challenge (i.e. 500/503) with our small Drupal site even with low traffic and trying to figure out how to scale in order to accommodate traffic spikes.

Arnold Leung’s picture

We are currently using 2 dual cores each with 4 GB of ram. However, this infrastructure is really insufficient for handling traffic spikes. For the days when we had over 20,000 visits, the site got really slow and we are forced to enable Varnish cache. We are looking to upgrade the infrastructure. We are looking into cloud hosting as an option. I will keep you posted as we experiment the cloud hosting option.

LuxuriaMusic’s picture

We have been testing cloud hosting over the last month and will go live in the next few weeks. I am hopeful that it will improve our results.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences as you explore the cloud hosting option.



jcisio’s picture

You need 2 dedicated with 4 GB each for a site with 900k pageviews/month?

I was preparing a site with only one dedicated with 2 GB RAM for 100k+ pageviews/day :( (it was working well on Joomla!, mostly anonymous visitors). Let's see if that works. Boost is something comparable to Varnish.

Ruslan’s picture

your keywords in site - this module "similarterms"?
Which module you use to profile? Bio? or other?
Write more about the registered user.


Arnold Leung’s picture

For profiles, we use the node profile module. There are actually a lot of user features that have been developed but are currently hidden. This includes user groups and buddy list. Currently, user can create profiles and message one another.


hillaryneaf’s picture

I'm very interested in your publishing workflow.

How did you get Workflow module and Revision Moderation module working together? Or do you use each one on different content types?

Arnold Leung’s picture

The WorkFlow module allows for the process such that writers can enter content and then have the content approved by the editors before going live. Revision is used to ensure that the editors can easily roll back the versions of each article. There is a different process depending on whether the content is article or a blog post/column post.

malexandria’s picture

Great writeup and nice site, and pretty fast. I think it's a bit blocky with all the red, but otherwise really nice job, however, I think this is what is wrong with Drupal in a nutshell. This site required 90 modules! 90! That's probably over 100 tables in the back-end and this will probably make the site a "nightmare" to manage in the long run. You could have built a site like this on Wordpress with only a couple of modules and maybe some minor customizations.