The Guts: Todd Motto on developing Rolling Stone’s “The Geeks on the Front Lines”

[We’re trying out a new series on SND. Lovingly named “The Guts,” where I’ll be finding cool projects and tracking down how it was made. This series will reach across all platforms, so if you see an awesome design project and want to know more about it, send it my way! You can email me at rschallom@gmail.com or find me on Twitter.]

First up in the series is Todd Motto, the developer behind Rolling Stone’s project, “The Geeks on the Front Lines.” Like many longform pieces these days, the web design is pushing the limits and provides a captivating experience for the user. Using HTML5, he was able to provide a new experience for Rolling Stone readers. The interesting thing about Motto, a developer in the UK, is that he does not work for the magazine — or any newsroom, in fact. So let’s see how that all came to be …

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Rachel Schallom: How did you get involved with the HTML5 Hub?

Todd Motto: Back in June this year, I got an email from Intel saying they wanted to partner with me. I went through a series of calls and sessions with them to determine if I was a good fit for their project – and it turned out they wanted to partner with me.

RS: What growing pains did you experience while producing the Hub’s first project?

TM: Adjusting to a new team’s workflow was difficult, especially the time difference. I’d read their emails when I woke up, and they’d send me replies as soon as I got home from work – it was quite stressful and pressured and very continuous. I’m pretty pleased with how we all came together and delivered the experience on time. Communicating over Google Hangouts was our main tool for the project collaboration for briefing and catchups, alongside Basecamp and GitHub.

RS: How can journalism benefit from the HTML5 Hub?

TM: The feedback on the Rolling Stone article has been fantastic, even a month after launch people are still tweeting me great feedback and pushing the article out there. The circulation and buzz it caused was over my imagination, and any journalism website would’ve loved the exact same attention. I dread to think of the traffic it pulled in.

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RS: Are there benefits for news organisations to contract out work like this rather an utilize developers in house?

TM: Definitely. There’s a lot of talent around the world and each workflow and output differs somewhat. Delivery of web products aren’t the same between developers; we all have our own coding style and methodologies for coding.

RS: Was it daunting developing a project about developers/hackers?

TM: It wasn’t daunting until it went live; I wasn’t sure what to expect from people’s reactions. As always there are a few disappointing remarks, but the other thousands of great comments made it worthwhile. Some of the hackers from the article actually wrote a few comments and tweets about how great it was – so I definitely achieved what I’d set out to do in that respect.

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RS: HTML5 projects typically exclude IE users. What are your thoughts about leaving out a segment of the audience?

TM: IE9 and IE10 users would have had a great experience, IE7 and IE8 however we included a notice saying that this article was using cutting-edge technology for demonstration purposes and they should upgrade. In production (for something like a website) it would’ve been suitable to provide some fallbacks – but that goes against what the project is for. Their’s new point showcasing cutting-edge technology and then falling back for non-supporting browsers – that defeats the purpose of looking into the future! The more we leave out legacy IE, the sooner we’ll not have to worry about excluding users.

RS: In three sentences, what advice would you give to developers in news organizations?

TM: Experiment with new tools as often as you can and always learn what you can outside of work – that way you bring more to work and spend more time on delivering projects. Keep up with immersing technology (especially in the HTML5 space) and try learn something new each day! Aim to deliver content in a new fashion (not just your standard layouts) and have fun at the same time, you can even integrate some of the new hardware accessible WebRTC APIs for an even more enhanced experience.