From Print to Digital: Exploring JSH-Online's Massive Online Content Migration

The transition from print to web is daunting for even the smallest publisher. But imagine migrating thousands of articles across three different publications - dating back to 1883 - into one coherent online source. This is exactly what JSH-Online set out to do when they chose the eZ Publish Platform as their content management system of choice. 

his was the goal of JSH-Online, an initiative by The Christian Science Publishing Society to combine three of their major periodicals: The Christian Science Journal, Christian Science Sentinel, and The Herald of Christian Science. The migration, which placed a remarkable 2.7 billion characters behind a monthly subscription pay wall, has effectively taken more than a century of content and brought into the modern landscape, allowing visitors to search, reference, and share articles that were once trapped within the pages of an aging magazine.

“We’ve had to digitize 130-plus years of written records,” says John Sparkman, Managing Publisher at JSH-Online. The JSH-Online team worked with a third-party to help manually transfer the text online. “We needed to transfer the text word-by-word because of the search criteria for finding articles. We needed to have 99.9% accuracy.” 

Before doing so, JSH-Online needed a true content management platform in place. Prior to 2009 and their full commitment to digital, JSH-Online was known as spirituality.com and the company operated on the Dynamo web platform. “We need to upgrade and eZ Publish had the capabilities we needed to truly manage the amount of content we had.” 

The Christian Science Monitor, the well-known news organization of The Christian Science Publishing Society had recently implemented eZ Publish as their content management system. Sparkman and his team saw an opportunity for some commonality between the two publications, but there were still several characteristics that the new content management platform had to have such as: 

  • A scalable and standards-based architecture
  • The power to develop pay walls
  • The ability to manage the circulation of content and the subscription management
  • World-class search features
  • Mobile-friendly features and functionality
  • Customizable sharing capabilities
  • Out-of-the-box commenting functionality

Blending with the Right Partner

After deciding to move forward with eZ Publish, JSH-Online selected Blend Interactive, an eZ Publish implementation and development partner, to help develop the new site. “We chose them because of their eZ Publish experience and because we really just clicked with them,” says Sparkman. “The relationship we’ve had with Blend Interactive has been nothing less than spectacular.” 

The JSH-Online development team and Blend Interactive Director of Development Joe Kepley helped lead the JSH-Online development and implementation. “eZ Publish has an extremely flexible content model and we were able to build the structure we needed for all the types of information we were working with.” Because of the vast amount of content, JSH-Online needed a content management platform that was capable of scaling to meet their needs. “The scale that eZ is able to work at made this project possible, if you tried to do a lot of what we did with a smaller CMS it would have probably fallen over at some point and stopped working,” says Kepley.

The Search for Success

The shift to the web was undoubtedly a challenging transition, as the JSH-Online team was going from a simple website to a complex content management platform that housed more than 275,000 articles in five different languages. “The search element of our new website was absolutely critical,” says Sparkman. 

Sparkman and Blend Interactive spent a lot of time refining the search criteria in eZ Publish to ensure users were receiving the most relevant results possible. “Search in particular was a major feature in the project,” says Kepley. “Before eZ, subscribers didn’t have access to older documents. eZ was really the gateway to that access. We’ve been able to take a huge amount of content and narrow it down to just the articles you want within a few clicks. That has been a huge success for users and one of the most valuable features on the website for subscribers.”

JSH-Online has taken advantage of several other eZ Publish features, including the out of the box commenting system. With the help of Blend Interactive JSH-Online has even developed a unique sharing plugin. With eZ Publish, JSH-Online guests can share articles both in front and behind the pay wall. The publisher makes about 35 to 40 articles available to visiting readers per month on a rotating basis. “Using our share feature that is built with eZ Publish, guest can share those articles whether they are a subscriber or not,” says Sparkman.

Subscribers are even able to share articles to specific individuals outside the pay wall, a function that the JSH-Online team viewed as highly important. “One of the more interesting things we were able to do was to allow subscribers to share articles to non-subscribers. In essence, what happens is that the sharer passes a token along which allows the site user to pass through the pay wall to visit that specific article. That has been really effective for us.” With unique sharing capabilities, JSH-Online has been able to implement a pay wall while still expanding the reach of the publication. 

Besides the benefits of strong searching and sharing capabilities, which John Sparkman says are two of the main measurements of success for JSH-Online, the stability of eZ Publish has led to a confidence in the software. 
“Overall the biggest feature that eZ offers is quality software,” says Kepley. “We had a high degree of confidence that if we were building on eZ, we would be able to build a successful project and not run into too many problems that would derail the project.”

Making Mobile a Focus

Just as soon as the JSH-Online revolutionized its content model, a new technology would enter the fray: Mobile. The website was used primarily by desktop users when first launched, according to Sparkman. But JSH-Online was prepared for the shift to mobile. 

The Christian Science Publishing Society was aware of the increasing importance of mobile very early on. When JSH-Online went live, they did so with a mobile-friendly design. In the last 12 months, JSH-Online has seen a dramatic shift in the number of mobile users, according to Sparkman. “Now we are in the process of redeveloping the user interface to what I would consider a mobile-first approach.”

Blend Interactive is working with JSH-Online to implement a responsive design based on the Bootstrap CSS framework, which helps the site adapt its appearance according to a device’s screen size.

“In the two and half years JSH-Online has been live, we’ve gone from the thinking, ‘mobile is important,’ to, ‘mobile is absolutely essential,” says Sparkman. Mobile is a primary focus for JSH-Online in the upcoming months. As a team, JSH-Online and Blend Interactive are continually looking for new ways to make the mobile experience more enjoyable and fluid for readers. 

The publisher will be launching a new mobile experience in February. “We will be delivering an outstanding mobile experience, and that is a testament to the flexibility of eZ Publish and the work of Blend Interactive,” says Sparkman.

The relationship we’ve had with Blend Interactive has been nothing less than spectacular
John Sparkman
Managing Publisher
JSH-Online

Creating Creative Content

JSH-Online is also planning to continue innovating when it comes to the content they produce. Today, every new article that goes up online is accompanied by an audio recording; an innovative tactic that Sparkman claims has made the website’s user time on page go way up. 

“There hasn’t been anything that we’ve wanted to do that eZ Publish hasn’t been able to adapt to,” says Sparkman. With eZ Publish, JSH-Online has combined three separate magazine types, the Journal, Sentinel and Herald, despite them all being on different instances of eZ Publish. “One of the biggest values that eZ offers is that it’s the same technology stack that’s powering all aspects of publishing,” says Kepley. 

With eZ Publish, JSH-Online has been able to cross integrate three publications so that the user gets the sense that they are on one site. This has given the publisher the opportunity to build a huge database of content, which eZ makes searchable and requires little load time, according to Sparkman.

At JHS Online, we believe we are on a very strong, very capable and very reliable platform.