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Shut up and ship it: The story of the new-look Vox Product blog

Welcome to the new home of the Vox Product blog. In mid-February, we uprooted our Tumblr and relocated to Chorus, Vox Media's modern media stack.

You may be asking, "What took so long? Why didn't Vox Product use its own platform to write blog posts?" If so, you've got a bright future as an investigative journalist. The truth is, we just needed to shut up and ship it.

The Origin Story

The Vox Product Blog has been around since May 2012, and we've written dozens of what I consider to be interesting, insightful and impactful pieces of work. Still, we were writing articles in raw HTML on Tumblr, working on a foreign platform and learning nothing about our own tools from our day-to-day blogging.

That began to change in November 2013, when the platform team took up a new project. Our goal at the time was to build a "Chorus Blog" that actually lived on Chorus, while retaining the same look and feel of our Product Blog, which would remain on Tumblr.

We spent weeks building out the site, logging dozens of bugs and personalizing every aspect of the Chorus experience for the blog. It's easy to overlook just how many moving pieces there are on a Vox website until you start addressing the little details and fine-tuning the engine for takeoff.

Around that time, we hit a snag and had to refocus our efforts on other projects. Our team, while growing at a steady clip, still has to adapt to changing conditions quickly, and the Chorus Blog was put on the backburner. A nearly complete port was sitting in a branch, wagging its tail and waiting for someone to take it for a walk.

Deal With It

In 2014, we rearranged our team in a big way. While excitement is high about Project X, Curbed, Eater and Racked, there is still a lot of work for the product team to accomplish, and we realigned with those goals in mind.

One thing we knew we had to do, though, was build a team that supported our existing network of sites: SB Nation, The Verge, and Polygon. What was needed was a swashbuckling group of extraordinary developers and designers who could both fix bugs and build great new features for our editorial staffs.

That group was responsible for stewarding the Vox Product Blog out of limbo and into production.

David ZhouHuge Ma and Kelsey Scherer all went above and beyond on this mission; they envisioned a world where our product blog stood out from the crowd visually. They imagined a design with handsome feature layouts and a bold magazine-like cover on the front page. They strived for a place where the Vox Product team could feel pride in our work and, most importantly, dog food our own products. They just shut up and shipped it.

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Dog Food

Much ado has been made about our publishing platform, Chorus. We are privileged to be responsible for such an important piece of architecture, and our team works every day to improve its reliability, performance, and malleability.

One of the best ways to achieve user empathy is to actually use the product in question on every day. Most of us read our sites on a daily basis, but many of us only use the backend of Chorus when testing out a fix. With the product blog now using the same suite of tools that our editorial staffs are wrestling with, we can more easily identify areas that we can improve. If it bothers us, it almost certainly bothers our writers or our readers. A pain point becomes an opportunity, one we wouldn't have if our blog was on another platform.

What exactly did we change about the Vox Product blog in the transition from Tumblr to Chorus? A whole lot, actually.

  • Implemented Chorus comments and the same login system as the rest of our network, meaning you don't have to sign up for a new account if you are already a member of SB Nation, The Verge or Polygon
  • Improved the front page design with a cover option, added summaries and "continue reading" options for a more streamlined user experience
  • We now have the ability to showcase images in our layout more effectively, and added the potential for our content to use our signature longform treatment

All these improvements are great, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. We can now use our product blog as a proving ground for experimental design and development -- a place where there's no such thing as a bad idea. We're going to do some big things at Vox Media in the next few years, and a lot of it could happen here first.