Breaking news, delayed by the CMS
The content management system at work requires a few minutes from the time a producer finishes working on a page until the changes actually show up live on the site. The CMS at the paper I interned at in summer 2001 required 20 or more minutes.
The designers of systems like these obviously do not understand that breaking news should appear immediately, as soon as a producer finishes with it, not at the system’s leisure. Radio and TV don’t buffer their news programs for five minutes before the viewer sees them — live news means live, delivered at the speed of light. Print newspapers do buffer their news for hours between the last deadline and when papers are delivered. If newspaper Web sites are supposed to complement their print editions by being continuously and instantaneously updated, they should not be creating publishing systems with a used car salesman’s definition of instantaneous.
The technical reason for these delays, I’m assuming, is that the CMSes cache pages they produce. This is a smart idea for reducing strain on servers, because if hundreds or thousands of people request the same story, the CMS shouldn’t have to rebuild it from scratch each time. Rather, these CMSes check over their databases every few minutes, looking for articles producers have changed and updating the cached versions that visitors actually see.
My quarrel is not with the idea of caching but with its implementation. When a producer edits a story, the CMS programming that saves changes into the database should update that story’s cache immediately. The CMS should not wait a few minutes until its next regularly scheduled check for updated stories. Breaking news should not be hidden from readers for a few minutes just because a Web circa 2002 content management system can’t duplicate the Web circa 1994 ability of FTP to update immediately.
I've worked with some systems that had similar problems, but we had one system, I think it was the one developed by CitySearch, that allowed us to force cache on submission. It worked nearly instantaneously. Nice!
Now, if we can only get news sites to update their search index at the same time! Wouldn't that be a miracle...
The thing that amazes me is, this is not a difficult matter to overcome, even for a CMS with caching. Smart caching overwrites files to disk immediately when the database entry is changed, then leaves cache files alone for the (many) files that don't change that often.
Even open-source caching, such as that built into the Smarty template engine, supports a scriptable overwrite method that eliminates the problem of caches updating only at intervals. It's silly to trigger cache updates only on a timer.