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Tech and opportunities for collaboration – Q&A with Burda’s Ingo Rübe

Publishers compete against each other all the time with their own brands and the content they produce. However, there is a growing school of thought that argues that media companies should spend more time on sharing resources that are of benefit to all.

Burda takes the view that publishers don't often compete on technology. So it has instituted The Thunder project, which has at its heart a modular and customised Drupal-based content management system. Burda has now made access to the project available to anyone the industry.

Here Ingo Rübe, Burda’s CTO, explains to Ashley Norris why the Thunder project came into being, and talks about how publishers might work together on other projects or to tackle other issues in the future.

Ingo will also be at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin, from 20-22 March, where he will present a deep-dive on technology and opportunities for collaboration, using Thunder as a case study. More than 50 speakers and 600+ media executives will be at DIS 2016 - if you haven’t booked for DIS, our standard rate is available until 15 March – find out more here.

Why did Burda begin its work on Thunder?

Thunder started as a way to share innovation and synergies among the many different brands and products within the Burda Corporation. We created Thunder as a common CMS platform based on Drupal to be used by almost all German digital media outlets within Burda.

On the one hand, Thunder provides a common standard set of features which are useful for all publishers. Nevertheless, individual brands can add modules to tailor the system to their specific needs. We think that many of those ‘specific’ customisations will prove to be valuable to more than just the organisations they originated from. Therefore, we designed Thunder in a way that we can easily incorporate those add-ons into the main distribution, so the features can be shared  among all brands.

Ultimately the idea was to save costs, speed up our time to market and share innovation within the Burda corporation.

It didn’t take long until we realised that the model that worked so well within the very diverse Burda universe would be useful for almost all digital publishers.

We further believe that publishers do not compete through technology. Rather they compete with their unique brands and content. Therefore, we chose to make Thunder publicly available in order to foster cooperation among the publishing industry.

Why choose Drupal as a platform?

Some of the largest brand and government websites use Drupal (e.g. whitehouse.gov, gouvernement.fr, timewarner.com). And most of our Burda sites already run on Drupal 7. We think it is a mature and reliable platform. Thunder is based on the brand-new Drupal 8 Release. Our brands playboy.de and instyle.de were launched smoothly with Thunder in late 2015 with great success.

The standard Drupal core provides basic features, e.g. user management, menu management, RSS feeds, taxonomy, page layout customisation, and system administration. It is easily adaptable with thousands of modules available which have been created by a global community of thousands of developers.

What are the advantages of Drupal over bespoke CMS systems created by publishers? Any key features?

Drupal 8 integrates the object-oriented application framework Symfony 2, which is widely used and highly appreciated by developers. This leads to increased speed and flexibility when staffing projects because it is highly attractive to developers. Drupal 8 is inherently designed for mobile use. It is responsive ‘by nature’. Each page works perfectly on all kinds of end devices (mobile, desktop, etc.). The same is true for the backend features which means that editors can work any time at any place.

How does it work with Integrated social platforms e.g. Facebook Instant Stories etc?

The first Thunder release will provide a module that allows for publishing to Facebook Instant Articles. Drupal comes with a wide range of interface modules for all widely used social media platforms, such as Twitter, Google+, Instagram, etc.

Are the days of bespoke CMS systems created by publishers over?

We believe that there is no reason to start new projects or complete relaunches on anything other than Thunder. However, there are some large legacy systems and it would be very expensive to switch them to new platforms. So many of those still have some years to live.

Is most of the innovation on Thunder coming from within Burda or from external partners?

Most of the innovation is coming from the Drupal community. Thunder only exists because of Drupal. Thunder is Drupal 8 with add-ons and out-of-the-box solutions for some of publishers’ specific challenges.

Today, most of the innovation can be equally attributed to Burda and its external partners. However, if Thunder is successful, then Burda’s share will significantly decrease. In the future, most of the contributions will come from other publishers and many more industry partners.

How do you intend to work with smaller publishers?

Although Thunder was initiated by Burda the CMS distribution was completely designed with smaller publishers in mind - Drupal itself is suitable for small and large websites alike. Within Burda, we have users of all different sizes from a few hundred thousand to more than 20 million visits per month.

One fundamental principle of Thunder, and its community, is that the system is free to use. We will also request from our industry partners that their value-added services will be available with a freemium model (e.g. video streaming or the Riddle tools). Therefore, many small publishers will be able to use these services without any cost.

In sum, Thunder provides small publishers with a professional platform at very low cost. And smaller publishers in particular will benefit from the future improvements of the system without the need to continuously finance a standing team of developers or external suppliers.

Where do you think Thunder will go in the future? What is the roadmap?

We intend to add many more features from within the Burda community as well as from other contributors. Among them are a transaction platform, media administration features, and more community features.

Ultimately, the Thunder community will decide where to go. We are open to feature requests from all sides. We will then coordinate the development efforts to fulfil these requests. Some of the contributions will come from Burda. Many more will hopefully come from other publishers as well as from industry partners.

Does the Thunder project show that publishers can work together? Could they work on other technological solutions e.g. ad blocking responses?

At least within the Burda corporation, with its diverse and relatively independent publishing entities, Thunder has already proven that the system is more than the sum of its parts.

And Thunder has attracted a lot of interested partners from across the globe who intend to contribute to the system. It is very likely that publishers will jointly tackle challenges such as ad blocking within the Thunder community.

Take a look at the updated DIS programme (subject to minor changes):

If you haven’t booked for DIS 2016, our standard rate is available until 15 March – go here to find out more.

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