On October 26, 2008, the first bits were committed to the private Courant News project repository. At the time, Rob, Paul and I were going to offer a hosted SaaS product for college news organizations, freeing them from the grasps of College Publisher and providing a stable foundation for the future. In February 2009, we decided not to pursue the project as a business, but agreed to continue development as an open-source project. On April 7, 2009, we opened our code to the public. After launching the Yale Daily News on Courant in September 2009, we finally started to pick up steam in the past month. But after deep reflection, we have decided to cease development of the project.
During the fall semester we made significant progress with Courant: switched to Haystack for search, improved multimedia browse-ability, added the headers app for improved mobile and alternative versions of a site, implemented powerful automated caching busting, refactored the staff app, added OpenX integration, added mapping and basic geo functionality, started work on Nando, added batch uploading of photos, and continuously increased performance.
But in early January, Rob and I had a serious conversation about whether it still made sense to develop Courant. Although the YDN was using it, no other developers had joined the team, and we had doubts about the project’s long-term survivability.
Our last best hope was to convince the team at CoPress to help support clients running on Courant. I met with them at their team meet-up in Philadelphia over MLK weekend and tried to feel out their intentions and plans for the next year. There was still some glimmer of hope, and I considered joining their support team to make this a reality.
Two weeks later, the YDN Business and Online departments hosted a conference for college news organizations, at which I gave a presentation about Courant. Two of the attendees were enthusiastic about the idea of migrating to Courant, and I’ve been in talks with them in the intervening weeks. We even wrote a CP4 to Courant data migration script while working on a prototype installation for one of the potential partners.
Shortly thereafter, CoPress decided to shut down their operations. Without CoPress, and without any other potential developers to take over the reins, we had to make a tough decision: continue developing the project and potentially transition these two new sites to the platform without long-term support plans, or abandon the project.
Having worked on this project for over 16 months, pouring countless hours of my life into its development, it was an extraordinarily difficult decision. But, in the end, I feel it would be irresponsible to continue, especially knowing that I am going to have to leave anyways after my term at the YDN expires in October.
I’m currently working to transition the YDN off of Courant to a commercial system; although the front-runner is currently Ellington (from which Django was originally extracted), a final decision has yet to be made and it will likely be several months before I can talk publicly about our choice.
In the meantime, there may be occasional bug fixes to Courant, but substantial development of new features will not occur. We will leave the website and code online at least through the summer, and will likely move the code to Google Code or Github before retiring the website. Please feel free to use the code, but know that we will no longer be providing support of any form.
Had we pursued grant funding or other avenues of development, perhaps Courant could have lived up to its full potential. I truly believe it could have been a major player in changing the landscape of college news. I’m very proud of the work we did to create a generic and customizable, yet still very powerful, solution tailored specifically to the needs of college news organizations. Components like the get tag, dynamic/custom fields, the headers app, and the cache system are beyond the scope of most existing college news CMSes, and represent months of analysis and planning. The system was battle-tested against outrageous traffic spikes and proved to be quite resilient. We are not the first, and will surely not be the last, team to attempt to create a new CMS option for the college news world, and I wish others the best of luck.
I owe immense thanks to Rob and Paul for their contributions to the project over the last 18 months; their support has been invaluable, and I hope to work with them again in the future. I also want to thank Andrew Spittle for his assistance on designs for Nando, it’s unfortunate that they never saw the light of day. Thanks to everyone who has been supportive and encouraging over the past year, especially those who contributed to discussions on our mailing list and privately via email or IM.
I look forward to seeing how college news organizations respond to the current crisis in the media industry, and I hope they learn to adapt and look forward instead of backwards. My stint in the college news world has been enjoyable and a great learning experience, but I’m ready to apply my skills to new areas of interest. If you need an experienced developer for your software or robotics project, please get in touch.