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6/11/2012
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Maxim, Drupal, And The Hometown Hotties

Moving the men's magazine website to Drupal has given Maxim's Web developers more flexibility, including the ability to add social features to online events such as voting for "hot hometown girls."

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This year's Maxim Hometown Hotties get to strike a pose on maxim.com thanks to Drupal, which replaced the site's previous Java-powered content management system (CMS) in January.

Maxim's current Hometown Hotties competition, in which women from across the country submitted pictures and profiles, is one example of the most dynamic content now featured on the site, according to Michael Le Du, CTO of Alpha Media Group, the publisher of Maxim. Maxim is a leader in the new generation of men's magazines that favor lingerie over nudity, combined with content catering to other young men's interests, such as sports, gaming, gadgets, and, of course, sex advice. Maxim's most famous reader-awarded contest, the Hot 100, just released its list of the most beautiful women (oddly, including Stephen Colbert at #69), but Le Du said Hometown Hotties is a better example of a something new Maxim was able to implement more easily thanks to Drupal. The contest is not new, but this is the first time it's been hosted on maxim.com.

"In the past, we had to contract with third parties to build out a Hometown Hotties microsite, and then we'd have the functionality go away when it was over. Also, we wouldn't get the traffic boost to our site," Le Du said. "Now, these programs happen on the site and we can leverage those building blocks for other, similar programs." Contestants are able to create their own profiles and upload their own pictures, and link to their Twitter feeds, while readers can vote on their favorites – all using custom software modules obtained as open source or created by Maxim's developers.

The new site was launched with support from Acquia, a commercial open source firm that backs the Drupal platform. Maxim also uses Acquia's hosting service, a Drupal-specific application management layer implemented on top of Amazon Web Services. This cloud-hosted architecture helps Maxim cope with "very spiky traffic" that can surge when a new feature is published, or a link to an attractive woman's photo goes viral on Twitter.

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Le Du identified the previous content platform as one of the factors limiting innovation on the Maxim website shortly after he was hired in February 2011. Without naming names, he identified it as "a large quote, unquote enterprise CMS" written that had outlived its usefulness. The editing user interface was based on a Java applet--implemented in an older version of Java that was incompatible with the latest browsers--and the vendor's answer to every question or complaint was to upgrade. Maxim had lagged a release behind the latest version of the software, and the stories Le Du heard from peers about the upgrade process made him decide "it wasn't really an option," he said.

Because customizations required Java coding, they tended to take a long time to implement. Thus, the tendency to outsource projects associated with a discrete marketing or editorial initiative like Hometown Hotties.

Despite those issues, Maxim had invested so much in the existing CMS that convincing top management and the board to switch took a while. Once the decision was made, however, the actual site development went fairly quickly, he said. Work started in October, and the new site went live Jan. 28.

Le Du didn't come to the job as a Drupal bigot. In fact, he had never worked with it before, and only one member of his technical team had even limited Drupal experience. In a previous role as CTO at Smart Money magazine and general manager of its website, he had overseen a site architecture that used Java for complex functions such as stock market report pages, but it also included a more dynamic scripting environment. Because the site dated to the 1990s, that platform was Cold Fusion--one of the popular early Web application servers--and the Smart Money team built its own custom CMS on top of Cold Fusion. "It actually worked out pretty well," Le Du said, noting that after Macromedia bought Cold Fusion maker Allaire and both were later absorbed into Adobe, Cold Fusion became a scripting language implemented on top of Java, which simplified some integration issues.

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