30 Nov 2021

The Motley Fool: Adventures on Wagtail

We’re joined by Tim White, The Motley Fool’s Principal New Ventures Technologist, to hear his story of discovering, evaluating and adopting Wagtail. He makes a pretty compelling case for using open source technology and for investing to improve it for the benefit of the wider community. He also gives us a sneak preview of what’s ahead at The Motley Fool. Over to Tim.

Tim White

Tim White

Principal New Ventures Technologist at The Motley Fool
wagtail-the-motley-fool

Getting started with Wagtail

I’ve been doing enterprise content management for about 30 years now and 3 years ago I decided I wanted to get out of the hardcore Java world I had been in and move to a Python organisation. When I joined The Motley Fool, the first thing I was going to work on was a content management project and someone recommended Wagtail so I took a look at some tutorials and immediately fell in love.

That initial project took about 3 weeks to launch and it was so easy to use. The authors really love working with Wagtail and the user interface is smooth and nice to use.

Replacing Wordpress with Wagtail

We could have used Wordpress, some of the sites we’ve acquired from other companies are still using Wordpress, but we’re aggressively looking at converting those to Wagtail. It’s becoming increasingly easy to find Python developers and everything is so much faster in Python. Systems that weren’t in Python (because we’re an old C# shop) we have now built in Python and this has allowed us to go from developing features in a few months to only a couple of days.

It’s so much faster that we’re able to get stuff out there, see if it works, see if it’s worth investing in and if it is then it’s making money for us straight away.

Security is key for peace of mind as well. I have no worries with Wagtail, whereas with any given Wordpress site there are at least 20 different plug-ins that could suddenly become de-supported or a security problem. And we’ve had that happen to us and had to scramble to deal with that so now all our existing Wordpress environments are segmented off in their own little security zones so they cannot compromise anything else.

Enhancing Wagtail for everyone

After using Wagtail for a few months it became clear there were some key features that as an enterprise customer we really needed, features I’d had in other tools that we found were missing in Wagtail. If we were to build them ourselves we’d probably get it wrong as we’re not experts in Wagtail and then we’d have to maintain it every time Wagtail got updated and be responsible for ensuring it’s compatibility, which from a selfish point of view would be a lot of responsibility and expense. We’d also be the only ones to benefit from it. I’d rather contribute to the open source community and let other people use it and reap the benefits.

We’ve funded workflow, comments, page locking and a lot of ‘quality of life’ things. We also added a reporting framework which helps with reporting. This was relatively inexpensive for us compared to building all the features ourselves and the long term investment of keeping them up to date ourselves.

On the philosophical side too, if we can fund an enhancement and make it a better tool then more people will use it and if more people start using it the more people will improve it and it’ll just get better and better.

What’s next!

In the future we’re looking at scaling up and trying to find out how many pages a Python-based solution can handle. That means we’ll be pushing pages out of Wagtail into an intermediate system that can be a separate repository for serving the pages. We’re looking at headless options and the best possible way of serving millions and millions of pages. We’re constantly updating stuff as a up-to-the-minute news site and we want to keep rich search and filtering and linking features, but make it the most scalable solution it can be at the same time as providing the best possible user experience.