Lonely Planet embraces digital amid disruption in publishing

The travel guide publisher adopted F5 equipment for speed and security.

Lonely Planet had to quickly adapt to a digital world to stay relevant as a publisher of travel guides. Known for physical books, the company overhauled its Web presence and publishing processes to meet consumer demand for real-time and mobile tourist information, according to Lonely Planet online platform manager, Darragh Kennedy.

Increased adoption of mobile devices and e-book readers has forced the changes, Kennedy told Computerworld Australia at the F5 Agility Forum on the Sunshine Coast. “The whole publishing industry has had massive disruption.”

Lonely Planet had a Web presence since 1995, but the world has changed significantly since then, Kennedy said. “People want content on whatever device they pick up,” he said. “It’s really as simple as that. They want it geo-tagged and they want it really up to date.”

The travel guide got a final push towards digital when BBC acquired the company in 2007. “They put a large investment into the digital space”, beginning in 2008 with an overhaul of the Lonely Planet website, Kennedy said.

“The real hard part is how do you keep [content] as fresh as you can without going the Trip Advisor route where you’re taking loads of different people’s opinions,” he said. Maintaining high quality is key to compete with companies like Frommers, which itself was recently acquired by Google, he said.

Lonely Planet decided in 2008 to institute “agile business methodologies” across the business, Kennedy said. “That’s helped us to innovate and bring out new products” quickly, he said.

Today, Lonely Planet is a maker of apps and e-books in addition to physical books, Kennedy said. Through partnerships, its content is available on Nokia Maps and Microsoft Bing Travel. And Lonely Planet now also has a large presence on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, he said.

Lonely Planet has completely overhauled the way it creates and publishes content, Kennedy said. “Previously you made a book and then you digitised it.” Now, authors enter their writing into a CMS system on the road and Lonely Planet distributes it across several channels at once. “You create a book from it, you create an app, you put it on the website [and] you sell it to a partner.”

Kennedy said adopting F5 equipment played “a very important part” in making digital content secure and fast for readers. Lonely Planet initially used F5 for application performance management and search engine optimisation, he said. The travel guide has recently added F5 firewall capabilities to help secure its intellectual property.

F5’s application delivery controller (ADC) helped to reduce the number of servers Lonely Planet was using, Kennedy said. It’s also added more intelligence to the system, allowing Lonely Planet to better analyse traffic. “It kind of proved itself from day one. We actually see it more as part of the application stack rather than a piece of network gear that sits there.”

Lonely Planet added firewall capabilities to its F5 equipment during a recent IT refresh about three months ago, Kennedy said. Protecting intellectual property and maintaining high uptime is critical for Lonely Planet, he said. The company in recent years has seen growing threat from denial-of-service attacks, malicious advertising and crawlers that scrape content from a website, he said.

Since all its traffic was going through the F5 device, F5 decided it would be more efficient to put firewall functionality directly in the box rather than out front, Kennedy said. “There’s less to manage, and you save cap ex, which in a publishing environment is quite important.”

Adam Bender attended F5 Agility Forum as a guest of F5.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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