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Programming The Almighty Buck The Media News

NYT Paywall Cost $40 Million: How? 305

An anonymous reader submits this musing from Philip Greenspun's blog: "Aside from wondering who will pay more than the cost of a Wall Street Journal subscription in order to subscribe to the New York Times, my biggest question right now is how the NY Times spent a reported $40-50 million writing the code (Bloomberg; other sources are consistent). Google was financed with $25 million. The New York Times already had a credit card processing system for selling home delivery. It already had a database management system for keeping track of Web site registrants. What did they spend the $40-50 million on?" Maybe the folks behind CityTime were free on weekends.
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NYT Paywall Cost $40 Million: How?

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  • Its easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @08:18AM (#35706472) Homepage Journal

    A lot of it will have gone into executive information components of the system. Ways of showing the guys in charge exactly how much money they are making from the paywall this minute. Then you have the configuration interfaces and the teams to design datasets to control how the paywall works. Then you have the engineering which actually implements the paywall. They probably wrote a proxy from scratch to do that. Then they put it through validation. This created 10000 bug reports. Thats a lot of bugs so they outsourced the bug fixing to four companies in India who approached the solutions in 223 different ways. Then the resulting code changes were merged back into the mainline with bugs closed. Nobody wanted to do the tests again which was probably a good idea for the sanity of the people involved. Then they went live.

    Well, thats my guess, anyway.

  • CAL's (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2011 @08:18AM (#35706476)

    Microsoft client access licences for all subscrbers?
    Paywall is implemented in sharepoint

  • by headhot ( 137860 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @08:22AM (#35706504) Homepage

    I'm a consultant in telecom. I see this every day. I'm convinced that any project, no matter how big can be done by 6 people.

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @08:24AM (#35706514)
    I'd lay bets that nearly all of that was funnelled into another bit of Newscorp which charged the New York Times for the work. That's how taxes are dodged and books inflated so that the entire company looks like it holds more money that it does while the reality is less money moving in a loop to turn up as others are watching. He's apparently been doing that one for decades.
    Besides, Murdoch's entire collection of newspaper companies is probably worth less than he got for selling a Chinese cable TV network last year. He can afford to prop up the newspapers if it helps stop Google from cutting in to the money he gets from advertising in all of his media companies.
  • Stupid comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2011 @08:27AM (#35706524)

    Apples: Creating a search engine from scratch. The main hook is that it is simpler than existing products. User workflow involves typing in a term and clicking a link, and users are interested in it because it's different than competing products. No money (remember, this is before Google Ads) is changing hands.

    Oranges: Changing the user experience for a major existing site. Users are already familiar with the existing site and already inclined to react negatively because you're now charging for what was free. Money is changing hands, so a complete system for handling disputes and showing purchase history is required. The whole system has to hook into existing customer service systems. Customer service systems behind the scenes have to be extended. Support personnel have to be trained. Legal considerations for multiple states or possibly nations may be involved. Management needs reporting features.

  • by grouchyDude ( 322842 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @08:37AM (#35706594)

    Please do not save me a seat on the space shuttle you build.

  • by bjourne ( 1034822 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @08:52AM (#35706714) Homepage Journal
    Hah requirement analysis! Aka doing a lot of mind numbing paper work that if you are lucky the engineers are able to ignore and still produce a quality product. Or, if you're not so lucky, have to follow it because clueless managers don't know how software design works resulting in releasing something which is a veritable disaster. People are notoriously bad at reasoning about abstract things, especially if they don't have the technical know-how on how those things really work, which is why "requirement analysis" is a waste of time.
  • It's easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @08:57AM (#35706758) Homepage

    I watched the Navy burn $27 million on a glorified CRM that used Siebel and never got any working components. While that clusterfuck was going on a small team of four people built a prototype type system that was eventually rolled out to production because it was the only one that worked.

    The person responsible for the $27 million dollar disaster got promoted and took over management of the working system, which they promptly turned over to EDS to manage.

    When it comes to software development, spending more doesn't necessarily get you more.

  • Uhh... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Panaflex ( 13191 ) <convivialdingo@NOsPAm.yahoo.com> on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:05AM (#35706834)

    Well it's quite possible to "book" the value of a project much higher than you may actually outlay at any present time. Remember, these costs get deducted, deprecated and ultimately reduce tax burdens.

    Or maybe it was just hookers and blow...

  • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:09AM (#35706866) Homepage Journal

    Prerequisite: the team must be equipped with powertools to cut through the red tape.

    Say, open line to the CEO who just says "yes" to anything they say and authority to fire whoever stops them from performing their task.

    Depending on company structure, 10-60% of the time of any "revolutionary" change is spent actually developing the change, the remainder is asking, waiting, begging, urging, pressing, explaining, escalating and generally overcoming people who while aware of the necessity of the change and futility of their resistance, will resist the change as much as they can (or see it as the opportunity to exercise their decision-making power, which is totally unneeded and unwelcome there but by no means anyone could ever notice that.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:12AM (#35706916)

    The depressing thing about the "big budget" development efforts is that the bigger the budget, the bigger the likelihood that it will fail.

    Some of the most successful software I've ever seen was fairly ugly stuff that was knocked out in short order by less than 5 people. Years later, as it finally begins to seriously creak at the seams, the corporation puts together a massive team to bring it up to date. They spend massive amounts of time and money on consultants, fad "silver bullet" development tools and fad "silver bullet" project management techniques. 18 months into the 2-year schedule, they realize they've spent a year and a half generation UML Actor diagrams, panic, and immediately set everyone to work coding, without any coherent blueprint at all. The whole thing falls apart, lots of people get laid off, and maybe 2-3 people go in and hack the original warty system to keep it going. With luck, one can repeat this cycle several times.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:15AM (#35706936)

    I agree. We're a 2 person company that's bid on projects against larger competitors. We've had customers call us in after going months or over a year with the larger companies and not having any deliverables.

    We've turned around the project in a fraction of the time it took a larger team to even start. It's absolutely insane.

    The common reason that we're not taken seriously is that we don't have a big enough team to deliver on time, and if these larger companies can't stay on schedule then we have no hope in hell.

    The reason why we can turn things around in time is that we're committed, we know what we're doing, we work together well and we don't milk the customer.

    We split the project and run with our tasks, we don't wait for an architect or management to sign off on anything.

    I've worked for a large company and hated it. The politics were the biggest problem. Then management had to be educated in what had to be done. Write-ups by the architects had to be explained and clarified back to management because they knew squat. They were the ones that had to communicate to the customer so they had to know what they were talking about. We've suggested that some of the programmers could go and pretend to be the front guys just so the management training sessions would be reduced. That didn't go over well as the managers felt that they were being pinched out of their jobs.

    What's worse is that the programmers that headed the projects were related to upper management. They had no clue but were given huge responsibilities, and all of the perks. One of the kids refused to do the job unless he got a Porsche as a starting bonus. Next day there it was in the parking lot. That's when I decided to leave...

    Now, the two of us work from home. We have flexible hours, spend time with our kids and get the work done on time or ahead of schedule. We have control over the flow of information needed from the customers and 3rd parties and don't rely on others to forget to contact someone. It may sound inefficient but we're spending less time waiting for others and more time doing the work. We get together when we need to. Most of the time it's online collaboration or telephone.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday April 04, 2011 @09:36AM (#35707150)

    And of course there's the classic Mythical Man Month (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month) which, of course, no one reads any more.

    Funny, it was required reading in my software engineering course. Then again, perhaps it is not the developers who need to be reading it; more likely, it is management.

Do not underestimate the value of print statements for debugging.