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WIRED Doesn’t Use Multisite

When a company makes all the right choices for all the right reasons, I want to jump up and cheer.

At WCSF this year, WIRED engineer Kathleen Vignos talked about moving WIRED from 35ish blogs to one blog.

They didn’t use multisite at any point along the way.

Now part of this was that back in 2008, when they started, the concept of multisite wasn’t really there. But that left them in a strange world with 35 separate blogs, separate installs, and an psychotic update system that was headachy and roundabout and involved 35 separate sites. But you could understand why they didn’t in the past, since there wasn’t a way to do it back then, but it brings up the question today.

Why not multisite now?

That was my question after her talk, and I promise you angels sang from the heavens when she said that multisite was intended for siloing data, and she needed to share data between ‘subjects.’ So for them, to have categories and just post articles in the appropriate ones (yes, plural) was exactly what they needed.

I have been saying this for a few years now. Multisite is great, except when it’s not, and there are reasons to use it and reasons to not. WIRED properly looked at their sites and said “We need to share data, Multisite may not be the best.” They also said “We need to make it easier to add users to a site, so maybe not Multisite.” Every single reason they picked to not use Multisite was 100% exactly the right one.

Multisite is simply not what you want if you need to share data between sites and you’re on a big site. Had WIRED used Multisite, they would have been miserable and have to write not just plugins to migrate the data, but ones to join the tables and display data in an ongoing way. What a pain.

Kathleen talked about the hurdles of merging the sites, and the tools they invented in order to make their Pangea happen. They had to worry about logical things, like keeping User A out of a category, and made use of plugins like Restrict Categories to do just that. Custom fields in the author profiles were use to assign a ‘default beat,’ and they made extra roles to allow people to manage the sites. They used template files to make various categories look different, which is often the main pain point.

By doing this, they were allowed to share and segregate data in an efficient and effective way.

WIRED wins my hat-tip for the best talk at WCSF about Multisite, simply by not using it.

You can see the slides here:

WordCamp SF 2014 – WIRED Migration Project from kvignos

And the video here:

4 replies on “WIRED Doesn’t Use Multisite”

* resisting the urge to rant about project managers who make me build sites on multisite, then whine when I tell them how much time it’ll take me to setup a system to move data between each site *

So, was the reason WIRED chose a single WordPress site because of the enormity of the migration OR maintenance of that data afterwards? You would think that Multisite would be a perfect solution other than the data maintenance?

@David Radovanovic: Both, as I understood it.

Multisite would be a terrible solution, too. When you start to consider that much of the content would belong to two or more sites, that users need to be added to multiple sites, and that keeping all the content in sync without incurring SEO penalties would be a nightmare… why would you even consider Multisite?

You say ‘other than the data maintenance’, but I say ‘because of the maintenance’ – not data, all of it. All that maintenance of plugins and themes and users and data comes at a massive overhead cost for developers. Devs who could spend their time in much better ways and places. The time-sink of maintenance on a multisite with shared content like that is insane.

WIRED wanted one site to share users and data, while restricting some users to specific sections. Using user role plugins was the right way. Using one install of WP was the right way.

Migrating multiple separate sites into multiple sites on a network may actually be ‘easier’ than what they did, but not by much. They had to write their own tools regardless. I think that would break even.

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