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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: The next time a big story breaks, look to the cloud to get the news out

By Tom Warhover
February 12, 2010 | 11:52 a.m. CST

Dear Reader,

The Missourian’s “press” was a casualty of its own success Monday.

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In November, Charles Erickson recanted testimony that helped send Ryan Ferguson to prison in the murder of Kent Heitholt.

The videotaped testimony was made public as part of a motion to reconsider Ferguson’s conviction and sentence of 40 years in prison.

Reporter Chris Hamby delivered a story by mid-afternoon Monday.

His was the first report of this astounding news in what has become a nationally known story; CBS’ “48 Hours Mystery” featured the case a few years ago.

First is good for a newspaper.

Complete is even better.

Hamby’s article was written with the kind of authority that only comes from a reporter who has done his homework.

Hamby liberally quoted from the videotape. He included Erickson’s history of changes to his testimony over time. He provided a story that made sense to those who have followed every move of the case and to those reading for the first time.

Few of you had a chance to read it Monday afternoon.

For almost two hours, the Missourian’s Web site was either slow or completely inaccessible. Too many people were trying to get to the Ferguson story.

The servers couldn’t keep up.

Some of the digital means used to get the word out were also used to keep you aware of the problem.

Twitter messages (tweets) were sent. “Erickson recants testimony” is well within the 140 character limit. So is “Missourian site is running slow.”

The story was put on the Missourian’s Facebook page as well.

That’s not a thing to make a general manager or advertising manager happy. They want eyeballs on ColumbiaMissourian.com.

But if you couldn’t get the news on your Missourian site, you should still be able to get the news.

By 5:15 p.m., ColumbiaMissourian.com revived itself. My theory: Many readers were heading home from work by then. (I have nary a fact to back that up.)

The long-term solution can be found in the cloud.

“Cloud computing” is a kind of virtual world of software and hardware.

Rather than buying servers and maintaining them, that kind of storage can be found on the Internet.

When there is more demand — more of you trying to access ColumbiaMissourian.com — I can rent more space in minutes.

Later this spring, the Missourian and Vox Web sites will move “to the cloud.”

Get used to the buzzwords. One technology research firm predicts that by 2012 at least 20 percent of businesses will be using cloud computing or other methods to get out of the information technology maintenance game altogether.

Here’s how I think of it:

A couple years ago, the Missourian got out of the printing business. It contracts with someone else to print the newspaper.

Now it is contracting out its digital press room as well.

Until the switch, I hope you’ll be patient if another big story breaks.

If the digital press fails, the old standby will still be available. And for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Tom