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Matt Perry's Posts

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How we build stuff at Grist

This is an introduction to how we build our web products here at Grist.org.  I hope you find it interesting whether you work at Grist, are just curious, or want to decipher some of the  jargon involved.

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The hardware formerly known as Grist

Today at Grist we celebrate the end of our transition from our co-located infrastructure to the cloud.  This change, which included moving our CMS and primary hosting, migrating our donation and membership applications and changing our email broadcasting technology, has seemed like a long process at times, but has resulted in a Grist that is infinitely more flexible and ready for growth than we were at this time last year (and given how we're growing, that's a good thing.) If you're curious about where we're hosted now instead of on these boxes, we're hosted on the WordPress.com cloud through Automattic's …

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CanopyEngine and algorithmic news at Grist

As he explained today, when executive editor Scott Rosenberg first arrived at Grist, he searched the web in vain for an environmental equivalent to TechCrunch (or its robotic cousin, TechMeme) ... in other words, a near-realtime, link/expert driven news site that provides trending news in the environmental space.  Long story short, what we lack, we build ourselves, so Grist is now in the process of creating such a news portal based on Twitter and RSS (more on that soon I am sure.) What occurred to us at some point is that this sort of software has a very general use …

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New blog design today on grist.org, plus a nerdy rant about iterative design — with diagrams!

Today we're introducing the first iteration of a new blog design on Grist.org.  Scott Rosenberg, our executive editor, has agreed to serve as our guinea pig -- so this this new design will be introduced first over his content, and then later over more of Grist.  This change is the of many you'll see on Grist in the coming months as we refresh our product and crank up the pace and focus of our news offerings.  Check out Scott's post on Grist for more on what we're rolling out today, and how you can help us with feedback! From a …

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Grist is now on WordPress

Notice anything different on Grist.org today?  I hope that the answer is "no"! Even though  you may not see any overt changes, today was relaunch day at Grist.  We turned off our old site, and turned on a new, WordPress-based version. What we've done is known as a "port" -- that is, we've taken the Grist UX and content, jacked it up, and replaced the old foundations with new, better WordPress ones.  This required many many weeks of effort, some valuable expert advice and lots and lots of coffee.  It also meant that @natebot and I have had to learn the WordPress API …

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The News Smashup: 4 examples of a news app sub-genre

After attending one of Twitter's developer teatimes here in Seattle and having various other Twitter API related experiences recently (more on that soon), it's becoming a bit obvious that there's a rapidly-emerging subspecies of news app coming into being.  This sort of app can trace its origins pretty directly to pre-Twitter sites like Techmeme and its cousins, but can be distinguished by a primary reliance on social sources, rather than feeds (Techmeme etc. now also incorporates Twitter into its algorithm, but that was added later.) That's not to say there existed no news sites/apps based on the Twitter API before …

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Otto, Nacin at Grist

Last week we were lucky enough to play host to two members of the WordPress core team last week here in our offices in Seattle.  If you ever get the chance to work with/learn from Otto (@otto42) and Nacin (@nacin) ... well just do it!  Grist would not be what it is without the contributions of many people, but it many ways it's contributions of time and energy by experts like Otto and Nacin who make doing what we do possible.  So thanks guys. More soon on what exactly these guys were doing with us last week, all we can …

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Please try IronCache — a memcached extension for ExpressionEngine

Once in a while at Grist we write some software that we think might be useful to people other than ourselves.  Sadly, we rarely have time to clean up and/or release these bits of code -- there are few of us, and generally a lot to do.  That said, we've been able to make a happy exception in the case of IronCache. IronCache is an extension for the ExpressionEngine CMS that boosts performance for high traffic sites by using memcached, the world's most popular general-purpose memory caching system.  We've been using it here at Grist for about 18 months on …

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Grist Hackathon Hangover Report

We just completed our first news hackathon afternoon.  The purpose of the event was to give everyone at Grist the opportunity to try out new tools and ways of working together.  The specific challenge of the day:  given 4 hours, tell a relevant story with data.  That's it!  No more guidance was given (well OK maybe some was, but since it was justifiably ignored in pursuit of some cool ideas, I won't detail it here.) Here's what happened: Team Halliburton (Nathan, Wade and Dave) worked up an interactive timeline of last year’s oil spill, featuring cool “sinking rig” graphic and …

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Top of the Article Page Cleanup

Among a few site changes introduced yesterday, we rolled out a small refresh of the top of our articles.  It provides a cleaner, easier experience for sharing and retweeting articles -- we hope you enjoy it.  Coming soon and throughout the year,  look for improvements in the facebook sharing mechanism, and further streamlining on these tools. More generally, we'll be working on the entire article-reading experience to make it cleaner, more social and more immediate. 

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