I was on the team that developed CNN.com prior to the launch in 1995.
The goal was to expand the CNN brand to the Web, in its first 15 months online, CNN.com amassed nearly 80,000 pages of content. CNN.com was one of the first large scale high traffic websites, which required constant innovation.
Initially, I managed a shift of CNN Interactive’s web engineers and coordinated with writers the publishing of news stories and the associated graphics or videos. Later, I was promoted to managing the development and creation of special projects such as the Spanish and Portuguese version of CNN.com. I also collaborated on promotional efforts to drive viewers from online to on-air and vice-versa.
A few random memories…
Near the anchor’s locker room was a small room/closet where the online team created CNN.com. At the time, the primary focus was updating Compuserve and Prodigy, the Internet site was a small side project. Everybody used a a dial modem to get connected, the VP checked the site on a 14.4k modem (which was the average speed back then).
Shifts/shift meetings – the day was broken up into several shifts, there was a editorial producer and webmaster in charge of the shift and holding meetings to discuss what news would be published during the shift. Deciding T1, T2, T3, important news above the fold – the shift revolved around managing the Top story 1 or T1 which was the main story and then deciding the other two.
Whiteboard and yellow sticky workflow – publishing a story was extremely efficient. The stories were written on a whiteboard during the shift meeting. The authors and editors would write the story name on a yellow sticky, which was passed to the web engineers to code, then to the webmaster to publish, then to the producer to review. It was then checked off of the whiteboard.
Associated Press stories needed to be removed after a certain number of days, there was a small application that removed those articles, it was called The Angel of Death. Stories were published to the millions of internet viewers by dropping an HTML file on a small script that simply put the file on the live servers, it was a very manual process since content management systems were not advanced enough at the time to provide an easier way of publishing.
The editorial producer would always look at the competition to see who published the latest breaking news story first.
The 1996 election brought down most of the servers and came close to crashing the entire site, the system administrators did a great job of plugging in additional machines.