Open source key to Al Jazeera's Web 2.0 success

Al Jazeera spreads its Web message faster with open source.

It has been maligned by the US administration because it has given a voice to its public enemy number one: Osama bin Laden, but Al Jazeera's motto of giving voice to all sides of a story is also reflected in its IT deployment. The news organisation is turning out to be a big fan open source software.

Much of it stems from its New Media group, a division that is separate to the IT department and which is responsible for bringing productive tools into the television newsroom, and developing innovative ways to push the Al Jazeera news message over the Internet.

Mohamed Nanabhay, head of Al Jazeera's New Media group, which is based in Doha in Qatar, said the group intentionally develops a number of internal systems on the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) stack.

"My team is looking more at the experimental side of things - new platforms, new technologies. One of the things my group is doing is trying to promote and evangelise the use of open source technology internally, partly because we see a lot of value in lots of open source tools that are being developed," said Nanabhay.

"With a lot of the rapid development we do, it is just easier to build it in open source," he explained. "So for example, the [[xref:http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=5972486765 |Facebook|new]] applications are PHP. You have to build it in PHP and it is easier to run PHP off a Linux server than a Microsoft server. We [also] do a lot of interface work, so bringing stuff into Twitter. We run it off Linux boxes."

Because many of the applications he is looking at have already been developed by others before him, it makes locating the libraries online a lot easier.

"Chances are somebody has written a Ruby, Perl or PHP class to do a lot of this stuff already that we can interface into."

Nanabhay is also considering Drupal for a new project his group is working on.

"Once this goes live we will contribute some of the media management code we've worked on back to the Drupal community."

Although Nanabhay is supportive of open source philosophies, it still comes down to quality.

"While I'm personally a strong proponent of Free and Open Source Software, I am pragmatic when it comes to getting the job done and will always choose the best tools for the job. Al Jazeera has a massive Technology Division that spans broadcast engineering, IT and New Media.

"As an organisation we choose best of breed solutions when building out technology infrastructure, be they open source or proprietary solutions."

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Howard Dahdah

Computerworld
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