An event where media and publishing experts gathered to share war stories and learn from veterans who have shared the pain. The lesson? Nothing stands still in media.
Some of the cream of the UK and Europe’s publishing and media tech leadership gathered last week to hear from sector experts and to share knowledge of the new wave of tools and practices transforming what’s possible in publishing.
In a sector of the digital landscape which rarely finds one size fits all and is seemingly in a perennial state of disruption, some of the UK's biggest and best-known media organisations got insight into how better to embrace the constant demand for change demanded by modern audiences, and leverage the tools and opportunities offered by cloud technologies.
Crucially, the insight came from people who have been there and done it.
The invitational event, Modern Media & Publishing Technology Masterclasses, was hosted in London at the Amazon HQ by AWS, Glide, and Vercel - the brains behind front-end framework Next.js and the popular Vercel front-end hosting and development platform.
Despite the backing of some of the biggest names in modern digital publishing, there was one rule of the day: no selling. Name badges showed neither job roles nor organisations, and the theme of the day was to learn what you could from peers and connections and pass on what you could to help in return. The currency of the day was shared experiences.
The event was anchored around presentations by four key speakers, all with enviable experience in different aspects of the subjects under discussion. The challenges they have faced resonated with numerous attendees, eliciting the mantra that while solutions to publishing problems are not always the same, many of the problems themselves are.
THE FAB FOUR
Andy Macharg, the current CTO of Hello!/HOLA! and former CTO of Dennis Publishing, has a stellar career in solving publishing and media company problems and helping close the gap between editorial problems, business needs, and audiences.
Andy gave candid and eye-opening insight into the technological and business journey undergone by his iconic publication and its many teams over the last year with his talk 'All Change: The Decisions Shaping Success at a Global Icon'.
Their almighty challenge amounted to a wholesale renewal and rethinking of every part of the technological estate and workflows – enough to have some attendees wincing in sympathy at the scale of the task.
So how did Andy’s team and his leadership colleagues get the whole thing done – including migrations of vast amounts of legacy databases and content – in under a year, and make the turn-on so fault-free that no-one realised it had happened? To cap it all, Core Web Vitals shot to green with 100s across the board, and the site doubled in response speed.
The short summary is that it’s about leadership commitment, agreeing on goals, using the right technology, and working with the right partners. Sounds easy right?
At the heart of Andy’s presentation was the importance of buy-in across an organisation, openness about what you are trying to achieve and what it means to each stakeholder, even seemingly small things.
For example, the value to the organisation of saving a writer 10 minutes in publishing a story... I mean, it's just 10 minutes, right? Well, when it’s 10 minutes for every writer for every story every day, that quickly adds up to enormous efficiencies. Across multiple teams, it becomes incalculably valuable in the extra time it gives them to make better content.
Philip Fitzsimons is a world-leading authority on the real-world adoption and usage of cloud technologies to solve problems, and the founder of AWS’s almost mythical Well-Architected team - established to help customers use the then-new cloud better by studying countless good examples of successful teams, as well as countless bad examples. In doing so they created a roadmap to doing things right that every other cloud and infrastructure player has copied.
The crux of Phillip’s discussion 'Vital Decisions: Architecting for Excellence', was how do you architect well for excellence and for future-proofing in an industry that will never stop demanding new things and new ideas?
A huge part of achieving that is the willingness to learn from mistakes, to accept that they will happen, and that there is no such thing as ‘a perfect architecture’ for today and tomorrow.
In fact, an understanding that your architecture will need to be changed regularly is essential. When you know that, you view what a good architecture is very differently!
Luca Mezzalira – a media industry veteran and now a serious name at AWS (and the only speaker who signed autographs on the day, we believe) – is arguably the world-leading authority on Micro-Frontends (MFE), so much so that his O’Reilly book Building Micro-Frontends is required reading for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the concepts of MFE.
Unsurprisingly his presentation, 'Demystifying Micro-Frontends', did a remarkable job of making what sounds fiendishly complex and troublesome into an easy-to-conceive bite-size approach to old problems, problems the industry once only solved with unpalatable banquet-sized solutions.
Essentially, in a world of complex websites and applications that demand so many different features and functions on a single ‘page’, why not treat each one as a self-contained problem which has its own self-contained solution? In extracting problems from the old-style oil-tanker-sized workflow and big bang deployment, to instead solve them atomically with their own technology and development team, MFE unleashes enormous benefits across organisations in cost, pace of development, and recruitment.
Ben Seymour from joint-hosts Vercel built on many of Andy, Luca, and Phil’s concepts, with incredible insight gleaned from a career aiding SaaS and other technology companies to grow and educate customers in using new technologies to cut workloads and improve outcomes. And let’s be honest - as the room made clear - we have all experienced times when new technologies did the exact opposite!
Ben’s revelations in the talk 'Steering the Ship: Iteration Velocity & Cross-Functional Feedback Systems' were bolstered particularly by the sheer volume of insight he gets working with Vercel as stewards of the Next.js development framework, as well as with Vercel’s vast direct customer list – two completely different viewpoints each with enormous resonance to publishing and media companies.
One of the biggest takeaways was his reiteration that publishing is a never-stop business.
Change is the daily bread of media and publishing, and having workflows and team structures that are suited to a different industry is a recipe for disaster in publishing. Just because it worked for a global bank does not mean it would work for a publisher which needs to be poised to change at short notice and adopt new ideas at pace just to stand still.
TOMORROW'S WORLD TODAY
Bringing a close to the day, with its many breaks for attendees to mingle and share war stories, as we hinted in our Content Aware newsletter, we also got a sneak-peak of an imminent GPP platform feature from Glide CEO Denis Haman which leverages the best of the trustworthy AI LLMs and tools to speed editorial workflows and manage image libraries in a way which publishers can actually benefit from.
Since we still have it under wraps… that’s all we can tell you without being neutralised by a robot. But if you want to know more, we’re sure you can work out how to contact us.
Glide would like to extend a huge thank you to the speakers, and our friends and colleagues from AWS and Vercel in helping organise and host the event.
We plan other such events in the future in locations worldwide, so keep an eye open for further dates and themes by signing up to our weekly newsletter here.