In the recent European elections, anyone wishing to vote had to prove their identity. But how does it work in the digital world? And what is going wrong? A commentary by Botlabs CEO Ingo Rübe.
As part of GROW!, Hubert Burda Media has developed Thunder, an open-source content management system that is available not just to Burda brands such as Instyle, Bunte and Playboy, but to all publishers worldwide – and free of charge. In the following interview, Ingo Rübe, CTO of Burda Magazine Holding and the initiator of Thunder, explains how the Thunder open-source system works and why it has nothing to do with altruism.
Why has Burda developed its own CMS? There are so many on the market already.
In the past, we used many different content management systems, including proprietary systems, in-house developments and a wide range of open-source technologies. This became a problem because, as a publishing house, we had to deal with increasing outside influences. Take the mobile shift, for example: More and more people use our services on the go via their tablet or smartphone. Naturally, we had to adapt our websites. In future, we will have to respond to such technological changes more frequently and rapidly. It is economically unviable for each brand to respond individually to each of these changes.
We therefore decided to introduce a comprehensive editorial system that all of our digital brands can use. This enables new functions to be jointly developed and made available – and, most importantly, they only have to be developed once. If a publisher requires a specific function, such as a module for linking adverts, they can develop it or commission a developer. The finished Thunder module is then available to all Burda brands.
In September 2015, Playboy.de became the first Burda brand to be relaunched on Thunder – even though Drupal 8 was still in its beta phase. Just two months later, Instyle.de was relaunched, proving that the Playboy groundwork had saved time and money. Further launches such as Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and so on have shown the success of our concept: The publishers have formed a community, the workload has been shared and launches have become faster and cheaper. We knew that we were on the right path to a perfect content management system for publishers.
What makes Thunder different from other open-source content management systems like Wordpress?
Wordpress is like trying to build a house and finding a huge range of windows, doors and chimneys scattered about. To build the house, you pick some components and then see if the house remains standing. Only ratings from other users can tell you whether a component is good. Naturally, this is very risky for the builder.
In contrast, Thunder comes ready-built: Although everyone is allowed to develop new components, the core Thunder team tests them and decides whether to include them. This ensures that all parts fit together. The builders themselves can install more sophisticated taps in the bathroom, but the whole thing rests on a solid, tested foundation.
The idea that communities must be uncontrolled and chaotic is one of the major misconceptions of the open-source world: Although every publishing company can view the Thunder code, use it as the foundation for their system and develop new modules, these modules don’t automatically become part of Thunder. We are responsible for making sure that Thunder works; before accepting a suggestion, we check it very carefully to make sure it fits in with the system and meets our quality standards.
Why is Hubert Burda Media giving an open-source system it has developed itself to other publishers? Why so altruistic?
Equating open-source with altruism is a myth, and totally wrong. Anything that uses open-source technology has at least a long-term economic goal. It’s always about earning money.
Above all, open-source helps us to save: We have already hugely reduced the cost of relaunching, operating and further developing our sites. We don’t have to pay licence fees, and exchanging modules and experiences has created synergy effects. Naturally, operating costs also drop significantly when you’re only running one system.
Sharing Thunder with the open-source community strengthens these synergy effects: Other publishers also develop new modules, correct errors and therefore improve the existing system. Our brands benefit from this as well.
Let’s talk money. How does Thunder yield a profit, and for whom?
In Germany alone, 13 Burda sites are now running on Thunder. The money we invested in this would have had to be spent on optimising our sites for mobile devices and, as I mentioned, we’ve saved a lot in this area. So we haven’t lost anything – but we have gained a community built around Thunder.
Now other publishing companies are beginning to develop Thunder projects. For this they need the help of Thunder developers. Almost 20 IT companies have already jumped on the bandwagon and started using Thunder.
The exciting thing about this is that these companies are marketing and selling for us – in their own interests – and it doesn’t cost us a penny. They are also developing new Thunder modules, using their own resources or on behalf of publishers, that will then benefit the entire community, particularly Burda. A little economy has evolved around Thunder that has already generated millions in turnover in 2017. Obviously everyone knows that Thunder is a Burda initiative. This boosts our image as a tech and media company and helps us to recruit IT specialists, for example.
In short, we are winning. Other publishers are winning because they gain an almost perfect system that they can use and develop free of charge. The IT companies are winning because they can develop their business. It’s a win-win-win situation for everyone involved.