With a potentially broad and diverse readership, soccer coverage provides an interesting challenge to Web site designers.
Participants in the challenge were provided with a scenario and asked to complete a proposal, making reference to practical technologies, site structure and content publishing.
In the scenario, a hypothetical "major international media group" is looking to launch a brand new site for soccer fans. In an attempt to capture a global audience, the group insists the site operate in no less than six languages (including Mandarin and Japanese).
With access to a plethora of different media sources, the group is interested in running archival footage from European, South American and Asian tournaments, as well as running live daily broadcasts of top games.
The Web site will also serve as an aggregation point for news feeds from all over the world - and require a content management system to enable information to be appropriately formatted and published.
It was also suggested that ticketing sales, community-building features and extra features designed to build and maintain an audience, would earn bonus points.
Here are some of the solutions put forward by Web developers who took up ZDNet Australia's Soccer Web site challenge:
Based on SQL 2000 technology, with fully automated publishing and translation functionality built into the site, Brisbane-based Web designers, Twentyone, have come up with a comprehensive site, even offering a solution to traffic-building.
Webcom; MyWorld Cup
Offering a pragmatic solution, Sydney-based Webcom focuses on what soccer fans want on the Web, and how to integrate a sport-crazy community into the project.
Netsync: Soccer Crazy Media Group
Clean, template-driven and based on a .Net framework, Sydney-based Netsync offer a solution which can be tailored to suit an international audience of capricious fans.
The Soccer World Cup (SWC) Web site is designed to be the ultimate destination for soccer fans and soccer enthusiasts worldwide.
Appealing to all ages, SWC will be a highly interactive, informative site, which offers live games, highlights and the opportunity to purchase tickets at standard and privilege prices. SWC will engage in an active Affiliate/ Sponsor program to promote ticket sales and drive traffic to the SWC Web site. The site will be translated into at least six languages and will transact payments in multi currencies.
Web Twentyone specialise in creating Web sites that are fully self-maintained, saving long-term costs, and allowing clients to meet changing needs. Our websites are database driven, and maintenance of the Web site is form-based, with no HTML editing.
The SWC site will be developed using SQL 2000 server database technology. SQL 2000 is the most popular Web-database providing an extremely robust secure and scalable solution that is capable of handling hundreds of thousands of concurrent users. Cold Fusion technology will then be implemented to query and display the information in the database.
Web site hosting
We believe Web hosting is a serious part of any Internet strategy. That is why we recommend the 21 Stream.Com hosting facility for the SWC Web site.
Hosting will include:
- Site hosted on 4 X dell dual P1111 1000gig processors
- 1 gigabyte ram
- 36 gig scsi hardrive
- sql database storage (separate machine)
- Web-based e-mail
- cold fusion /active server pages support
- full visitor statistics
- online account management
- Logic Commerce Payment gateway support
- customised mailing lists
Note: all data including databases is backed up every 12 hours.
Content Management System
The content management system is called iPUBLISHER - a customised server side software application designed to enable SWC to manage Web site content in house. iPUBLISHER is a browser-based application that can be customised to meet the specifications of SWC. iPUBLISHER features:
- Template-driven system
- Multi-level security module
- Multi-site management - different regions/countries could add/manage content
- Preview-before-publish facility
- Manage texts, images, PDF, audio and video files
- Soccer auction - memorabilia, signed items and soccer treasures
- Spotlight features - club, team and players in the spotlight
- Soccer tipping competition
- Weekly soccer quizz - prize for winners
- Scores of the day
- Daily highlights
- Streaming news feeds
- Subscribe to e-news
- News - press releases and news archives
- Membership section - discounted tickets and priority seating
Web Twentyone's unique approach to Foreign Language is to implement a Database Driven Translation Solution, which caters for all languages including Asian languages. This solution has the following characteristics:
- All words / phrases / paragraphs on all pages of the site plus a translation for each word / phrase / paragraph resides in a database. SWC or any assigned translators can easily change any text on any page of the site.
- The database contains a translated image file for each image in each language. Changing an image, even Flash and PDF files is as simple as uploading the new image into the SWC Management System.
- When a customer visits the site and selects a language, the appropriate translations for both text and images are extracted and displayed.
- Rather than using images to produce Asian text, the sites will be displayed using the relevant character sets. The facility to view Asian character sets is available on all common browsers.
- This approach can be applied to both the SWC Ticketing System (for customers) and the SWC Affiliate/ Sponsor's System (for resellers).
We recommend the QSI Payment Gateway as it offers multi-lingual and multi-currency support, and can accept the JCB card. QSI generally offers cheaper transaction costs, and offers discounts for high volume transactions.
Web Twentyone uses the XE live rates to get the latest currency prices hourly. Although all transactions will be conducted in Australian dollars, these currency conversions can be used to display prices to the customer in their own currency. The customer is made aware that the final transaction would be made in Australian dollars.
Ticketing and affiliate/ Sponsor overview
The SWC Ticketing system is designed to provide a self-maintainable Affiliates/ Sponsor Program (ASP) that will allow SWC Affiliate/ Sponsors (both domestic and international) to create links on their Web sites. This enables their customers to travel directly to the SWC ticketing program and purchase tickets from SWC direct. Affiliate/ Sponsors will receive a commission payment on the tickets purchased.
The SWC Ticketing system is a complete Digital Ticketing and Affiliate/Sponsor Management solution with foreign language translations, e-tickets and customised partner pricing. The system is made up of four parts:
Public Ticketing System - Real time ticket purchases on the SWC Web site. The customer immediately receives a digital image of their ticket, which contains a unique bar code that will be read when the ticket is used.
Tickets can be branded with SWC and Affiliate /Sponsorship branding.
Affiliate/Sponsor's System - This enables each Affiliate/Sponsor to log in and view details of their ticket sales, which can be grouped and reported by department or office.
Ticket Validation System - This is a verification process for online tickets, either by scanning the barcode, or by entering the unique order ID for the ticket.
Administration System - Here the administrator can set up and manage Affiliate/ Sponsors, as well as setting ticket prices and commission levels.
The Ticketing Process - This diagram shows the components involved in the ticketing process. The numbers on the diagram correspond to the steps below.
- The customer goes to the Affiliate/ Sponsor's Web site and clicks on the ticketing link, which directs them to the SWC Ticketing Site
- The credit card details are encrypted and sent to the Payment Gateway, where, if the transaction is successful, funds will be transferred directly to the SWC bank account.
- The Payment Gateway returns a response code to the SWC Ticketing Site, which displays the appropriate response (failed / successful) to the consumer.
- The ticketing system produces an image on the screen of a ticket that the customer can print and take to the SWC front gates.
Project schedule and timeline
The SWC project will be conducted in six stages and will take approximately 21 days to complete. Following is a flow of the testing cycle.
Web site Traffic Optimisation Strategy
- Search Engine Registration strategy - free, pay for placement and priority listings
- Quizz results posted on the site to drive interested traffic
- Latest press release headlines distributed as e-mail blasts to the SWC mailing list
- Reciprocal Web site link program - with sponsors and other soccer related Web sites
- Affiliate ticketing
- E-news and viral marketing
- Cross media promotions utilising the Web site for registrations/ announcements
Webcom: MyWorld Cup
Another World Cup site - is it really what your football fans want? Yet another site that uses content commissioned from the same suppliers. And does your average fan really want to watch games on the Net (and more importantly are they able to?). Football fans are very loyal to their favourite existing portals.
Now, how about a site built by the fans for the fans? - an irreverent, anecdotal communal site. How about a site where every fan gets to be Sven Goran Eriksson for the day? How about a user-interactive site full of competitions, quizzes, trivia facts, polls, etc? Now that sounds appealing.
Webcom recommend a site with user profiling for customised content and personalisation, frequent structured e-mail and SMS marketing to drive site campaigns, and a communal feel to encourage participation on a daily basis. And why reinvent the wheel in terms of ticketing and merchandising? - affiliate with existing sites that have gone through the pain of start-up.
The site must be built in double byte character to accommodate all language structures. The user will select language preference when first visiting the site, and a language option is also available on the home page. All content aggregation will have to be pre-translated. Content should be screened for cultural sensitivities. What is acceptable in England may not be acceptable in China.
Content sourcing and management system
Content reproduction contracts would have to be agreed with content providers such as Reuters, Screaming Media, FIFA, BBC, CNN and other worthy news channels. Mapinfo.com could be brought in for local information on city specific information (hotels, airports, transport). Vignette will integrate well to aggregate content and reformat through other mediums email, SMS, PDA and ICQ. Content editors and translators will be working 24x7 in many locations around the world.
Webcom recommends the site be run on Sun servers, using iPlanet Application Servers, integrated with the Vignette Content Management System, and using Oracle databases. The development language should be Java. The site will have mirror host points at the key hosting locations across the globe such as Sydney, Hong Kong, London, New York, and importantly Los Angeles, the gateway for South America.
NetCasting of games
When it comes to the live streaming of games- forget it. Any self-respecting football fan will be watching the game in the pub or at home with a bunch of mates and a fridge full of beer. It's a communal 'matey'exercise, and unsuitable for sole-viewing. In four years Digital TV may make it an option but for now - forget it.
However, archived footage streamed through Windows Media Player (WMP) will offer an excellent vehicle for reliving key moments, polls on best goal, worst blooper etc.
Synchronised content can be streamed with WMP, with indexed points for fast find and polls or competitions for interactivity. Player interviews would also work well archived. IPIX photography should be used for 360degree shots of the stadiums etc.
Ticketing and merchandising
Don't re-invent the wheel - affiliate with a global ticketing group such as Sabre or Galileo, and one contracted to FIFA, and maybe pay for a customised look and feel.
Revenue sources would include sponsorship of the site by technology partners, transactional revenue from ticketing and merchandising will all play a key role. Advertising via banners ads, third party competitions, e-mail and SMS sponsorship will also offer good revenue streams.
In addition to the aggregated content of match reports etc, Users will be encouraged to provide reports and feedback. Polls, quizzes and interactive games will encourage repeat return to the site and lengthen visit times.
Polls on best goal, biggest blooper, plus all the inevitable key issues of the day can all be used for discussions.
Humour will enhance the community aspect of the site such as -Word on the Street" sections, photos, anecdotes and chat rooms on important issues.
Drive to site
From the user profiling, segmented e-mail blasts can be planned according to factors such as team interest. SMS reminders for time-critical events on the Web will encourage drive to site.
Competitions would be critical in this portal such as polls, quizzes, World Cup Fantasy Football, and other tipping competitions
Two months for proposal, scoping and sourcing quotes from suppliers. Four months for technical implementations and integration, creative designs, load testing, content and application testing
Webcom's approach is to analyse the audience's levels of internet sophistication and honestly ask what are their wants and needs. It is what we feel will work today, offers a unique positioning in the marketplace, and creatively offers multiple mechanics for drive to site strategies.
However, the next World Cup is four years away. The market will have grown up and technology will offer a myriad of different possibilities. Bluetooth, wireless, Digital TV and interactive gaming will all be bedded in and provide new opportunities for the Media Group.
Netsync: Soccer Crazy Media Group
The fictitious Soccer Crazy Media Group (SCMG) would have several concerns broken up to the following:
- Visual Design & Layout
- Database Design
- Multiple Language Support
- Content Linking
- Content Management
- Ticketing Sales & Fulfilment
Visual Design & Layout
To capture the global audience of soccer fans, a sleek and elegant yet user-friendly and straightforward user interface needs to be designed. Incorporating various elements (like ads, search, player profiles, etc) that an SCMG Web admin can control by moving, turning on or off etc.
However, the visual design and layout will be important, but will not define its success.
A well designed database which will house the requirements of linking players with teams, their histories, match results, global league standings and various other elements will pose to be a challenge. For instance, a tournament (league or world cup) will be made up of teams. Those teams may well also participate in more than one tournament like the "English Football League" and the "European Cup" for instance. Then, those teams are made up of players who again, can play for multiple teams.
Below is a simple illustration of how the database model may look.
Multiple language support
All elements of the Web site whether if its an article or a player profile will be made to support multiple languages. Each piece of content will be linked to its associated language. These languages however, should rely on editorial translated input, not automatically generated from various language converters out in the market place.
Each article can also support multiple images that may or may not consist of language dependant elements. As far as the user experience is concerned, they choose the appropriate language at the very first session on the Web site. They will then be served that language from there onwards (depending on that language's availability).
Every article should be able to link with any of the available elements in the database. For instance, if an article is about a particular soccer match, there should be links in the content itself linking to teams, players or tournaments. This gives great levels of interaction for the end user, which would almost guarantee to increase the levels of retaining and attracting users. Similarly, when users are at the tournament home page, there are links to match results, teams and so forth.
We would also implement some content writing tools that will assist inserting these links into the content without having to know where they are. It would help writing the articles a lot easier.
A sophisticated Content Management system will be part of the entire database. Below are key features, which will incorporate:
- Security - users/ roles (writer, editor, manager)
- Work-flow management (where content is managed, approved/declined, check-in/check-out)
- Version control & history
- Scheduling (when articles should be published and expire)
- Multi language support (see above)
- Template management
These features will be entirely browser-based so scalability is not an issue across a wide and secure intranet/extranet.
Ticketing Sales and Fulfilment
We would be looking at integrating with an existing ticketing organisation and will be looking at ways to obtain real time pricing and availability. This would entirely depend on the B2B features that the ticketing organisation exposes so we would be limited to that.
Our aim is to seamlessly integrate with them so users would not be directed to another site suddenly. Technologies we would preferably use here would include Microsoft's Biztalk Server where XML/SOAP is the underlying transport. However, we remain flexible if the ticketing organisation exposes different methods.
We are Microsoft specialists. We would be looking at utilising the .NET framework to implement this solution. Web services will be across load balanced servers (stateless and session-less architecture) to ensure high-availability and scalability. All server hardware to have Raid-5 capability and a shared SAN-based storage for dynamic files.
The database would reside on SQL Server 2000 with its Fail-over Clustering capability, again for high-availability.
Part of any of our solutions, we also look at the development life cycle of development, staging and finally production deployment plans. We look at ways to make deployment of updates with the least impact to the entire service.
Based on the limited scope of the scenario, we would be looking at a time frame of between 14 to 16 weeks for a completed project. As part of our philosophy, we share success with clients by reducing costs and placing a performance bonus at the successful completion of project within the agreed time frame.