Skip to main content

The Specialist Publisher rebuild: behind the scenes

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Product changes, What we're working on

Since mid-2015 we’ve been busy rebuilding Specialist Publisher - the application that powers the Manual and Finder content formats on GOV.UK. This post is an update on where we've got to.

We built Specialist Publisher when we found some unmet user needs during the transition of agencies’ content to GOV.UK. Specialist Publisher is one of the least mature parts of the GOV.UK system, so we get lots of requests from government colleagues to make feature improvements. However, we’re putting these on hold until the rebuild is complete.

This work is part of our focus to rebuild the Publishing Platform over this financial year. While we rewrite Specialist Publisher to allow developers to iterate and build upon it more quickly, we are migrating it to use the new Publishing Platform, as its centralised data store.

The Highway Code uses the 'manuals format
The Highway Code uses the 'manuals' format

Our progress

We’ve already deployed two Finders live in the new Specialist Publisher. They are for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) and Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB). The next Finder should go live in the next week or two.

Once all of the Finders are live in the new version, we may consider isolating the Finder format into its own publishing application, before we focus on the Manuals format.

The RAIB reports use the 'finder' format
The RAIB reports use the 'finder' format

Will Specialist Publisher change?

Yes, but not immediately.

There’s lots of demand to improve the formats in Specialist Publisher. While it’s tempting to add new features to Specialist Publisher right now, we need to concentrate on rewriting and integrating with the Publishing Platform. While we’re doing this, we’ve taken the decision to move away from hexagonal architecture and standardise its build to be similar to the rest of our platform.

We don’t want to run two versions of Specialist Publisher concurrently for very long as it risks creating confusion, so we’ll deprioritise product requests until the rebuild is complete.

That said, there are a few minor changes happening now to the Finder format, because of its move to use the Publishing Platform. Finders in the new Specialist Publisher will use some slightly different terminology, such as ‘unpublish’ instead of ‘withdraw’. This is part of standardising the language we use across our publishing applications.

Most of the significant changes will come over the next 6 to 12 months as the Publishing Platform is developed, to the benefit of all publishing applications.

We’re adding a new Finder

While we’re doing this work on Specialist Publisher, we’re also running a trial to see how easy it is for an agency to build on the GOV.UK platform. The Department for International Development (DFID) have appointed DXW to create a Finder that can replace their 'Research for Development' website.

The contract for their existing website ends in the autumn of 2016, so we’re working to support DXW in building the new Finder before it is merged with the GOV.UK platform.

What we’re learning

We have a full team working on this task, so we have product and delivery oversight to support the developers. Being set up this way means that we’re properly considering risks, prioritising well and improving our approach to deliver things faster.

While we’re doing this work, we’ll be assessing Specialist Publisher’s quirks and curiosities to see if there’s anything that should be added to the Publishing Platform.

The work so far has already drawn attention to some inconsistencies in our publishing terminology, for example. This is really helpful to the overall project of rebuilding the GOV.UK Publishing Platform, because Specialist Publisher is the first application to go all the way through to our phase 2 architecture - using Publishing API as its centralised data store.

We’ll keep you posted

We’re notifying digital leads ahead of each Finder switching over to the new Specialist Publisher. If our work is successful, publishers shouldn’t experience any disruption to the service or notice any changes (apart from the minor terminology labelling mentioned above).

What you should notice, however, is that in the future we will be able to iterate on the Specialist Publisher formats more quickly. It will also benefit from all of the effort we are putting in to centralising functionality in the Publishing Platform too.

Jennifer Allum is a GOV.UK Product Manager. You should follow Jen on Twitter.

Sharing and comments

Share this page