The New Year Brought the New 1&1 Help Center
Last December, our team celebrated (this calls for a beer! :)) the launch of the biggest update of the new Help Center, thus marking the decommissioning of the last old components in the system. In 2012 we managed to completely rewrite the help center to take advantage of the latest software technologies. This was a big project and we had a lot recruiting for our team.
Actually, we doubled our team, and I feel that we somehow rebuilt it as a whole around this project. We all grew attached to different parts of the Help Center, and we tried to make the most of what we really liked. That is why we managed to make so many improvements that reach through all aspects of the project.
The new architecture we’ve designed has increased reliability, a reduced dependency to other systems, and enhanced internationalization support. The user concept made by our partners in Germany assured a new visual identity that follows strict guidelines as well as a completely reworked structure and layout of content. We also made it possible for customers to leave feedback for each one of the articles that we show, and the administration module allows us to pick up on this and improve the content where needed. Then we moved our focus to the search; the Google Search Appliance is a very powerful tool, and we pushed as many features as possible from it, into the search that we provide in the Help Center. The new CMS (Content Management System) was my personal favorite, and we did add many features here. Everything is custom tailored with features such as live content preview, in-browser XML editing, push notifications in order to achieve fast content deployment to the production environment, and there are a lot of other nice additions.
Currently, only the German Help Center has been migrated to the new codebase, but by the end of 2013’s first quarter more markets will start using it.
Building the Help Center
Even if at a first look the product doesn’t stand out when you think about complexity, meeting all the expectations of parties involved while respecting the quality standards and the project schedule meant that we had to scratch our heads more than once!
This was the first Agile project for most of us, and we found it nice to discover all the Agile “rituals”, like the dailies, the retrospectives, or the poker planning. In the end it was really fun getting used to all of them and adapting them to our own needs and wishes.
For both the frontend and the CMS that lies in the backend we used a lot of open-source projects and exciting technologies.
The CMS that holds all the content we serve in the frontend was also completely rewritten. We started with Joomla CMS, and we built a custom component that completely customizes the CMS to our needs. We added different collections of articles (in order to support multiple markets), support for article review and support for parent/child articles. When it comes to article editing, we implemented an extended version of the CodeMirror editor that allows the editors to quickly insert the XML markup required to render different complex HTML objects inside the articles, and we’re also offering live preview straight on the frontend server with some smart calls done via jQuery’s JSON-P that allows cross-site communications in the browser.
Now, several weeks after the final release, our customers love it, and so do we. And as a bonus, we had fun doing it!