a-n Interface home page


a-n (The Artists’ Information Company) commissioned Platform3 to engineer a major redevelopment of their existing website. Packed with information for artists and arts practitioners, a-n’s site is an invaluable resource for all involved or interested in the arts, catering for over 90,000 users online. The development has seen the launch of many new sections: Including the user contributions mini sites;; Interface, Degrees Unedited and Artists talking.

Both Interface and Artists talking have Unedited sections where visitors who register with the site are able to contribute (Unedited) reviews, blogs, and what’s on listings. Future sections promise further user input and web tools for arts practitioners.

The new website provides comprehensive account administration: new user registration, fully database driven, subscriptions and payments online. Registered users can post reviews and create their own blog as well as comment on other’s reviews and projects.

Powerful social networking functionality is provided: blogs, comments, post reviews, communication and sharing via Twitter, video upload. Multiple content types can be published: text, video, images, audio and documents.

  • AA compliant interface
  • Database driven website
  • Subscribe and pay and renew online
  • individuals can register to submit unedited project blogs, reviews and what’s on listings and degree show blogs. They can update their own pages using a password as well as subscribe online
  • registered users can comment on other’s reviews and projects
  • build your own RSS feed
  • advanced search facilities
  • over 8000 images from over 3000 UK and international artists.

Registered users can post reviews and create their own blog as well as comment on other’s reviews and projects multiple RSS feeds & build your own rss (my a-n) user comments community channels advanced search facilities over 8000 images from over 3000 UK and international artists. and much more…

The website provides numerous levels of access:
public, subscribers, staff, AIR members

The A-N website integrates three separate systems: Phorum, (an open source forum application, and an Omnis based CRM and the Cake web application which delivers the website. A-N incorporates user data taken from existing data systems


  • Amazon Cloud configuration
  • CakePHP
  • mySQL
  • Nutch
  • Shibboleth
  • Vimeo & Youtube API
  • twitter integration
  • Phorum integration
  • legacy systems
  • epdq (payment gateway) integration
  • ad tracking

Further details:

CakePHP adapted to pull data from legacy DB2/Omnis back-end.

The entire a-n.co.uk, user facing site, is built using the CakePHP framework. This was quite a test of the flexibility of the CakePHP system as the underlying DB2 database was of late 90s vintage and was designed to work with net.data (obsolete now) on the front-end, with Omnis used as the publishing system.

We were able to adapt the way in which CakePHP accesses data in order to use the data as it was structured, rather than having to adapt the underlying data structures to the CakePHP way. This allowed the existing site and back-end to function during the new front-end development. Beyond this we were also able to add to the system using the mixture of this legacy DB2 back-end coupled with the modern CakePHP framework.

Blog system (including video posts: YouTube, and Vimeo powered)

Many new parts and sub-sites were added to the a-n.co.uk website during its development, one of which was the Blog system. This powers both the Artists’ talking blogs, and Degrees unedited projects parts of the site. This system allows users to post new blogs and then new posts on these blogs. The blog posts can have images, and videos incorporated into them. Also, other users are allowed to post comments on these blogs. The interface for adding and removing the videos is pretty slick (jquery sliding, no page refreshing, stuff), encouraging users to contribute with by its ease and speed. Our jquery takes the embed code and processes it for output.

User generated reviews

The Interface section of the site allows users to post reviews of shows they have seen and other users can then comment on these reviews.

Commenting system

The commenting system is used throughout the site as mentioned already. This system was flexible and could be adapted for use with many sections of the site where user comment was desired.

Jobs and opportunities posting system

Expanding further on the users generated aspects of the a-n.co.uk site we were able to add a powerful jobs and opportunities posting system. This system allowed organisations to post jobs and opportunities which subscribers to a-n.co.uk could then view and apply to.

Email notification system based on job/opp subscriptions

Adding to the functionality of the jobs and opportunities system we added a automated notification system which would allow users to subscribe to jobs and opportunities categories, and then receive in their email inbox brief summaries of new jobs and opportunities that they may be interested in.

Nutch full-site crawling and search facility

Setup a web crawling system that, much in the way Google functions, crawls the a-n.co.uk website daily. This system can parse documents and pdfs as well as html allowing the whole of a-n.co.uk’s content to be searched in seconds.

The querying system was integrated transparently into the CakePHP front-end which being powered by the Java based query system. Nutch is an open source web crawler based on Lucene: nutch.apache.org

Phorum adapted and transparently integrated (including authorization)

The very flexible and established Phorum, open source forum software, was transparently integrated into the a-n.co.uk website. It uses the existing a-n.co.uk authentication system allowing the user accounts to be shared between the a-n.co.uk website and the Phorum user account system. www.phorum.org

Cloud based system running on Amazon EC2 infrastructure

Moved the entire a-n.co.uk website, including the DB2 back-end from a dedicated Linux server to the Amazon EC2 cloud infrastructure. This allows adaptability in computing power, memory resources, and system resiliency due to the cloud based nature of the infrastructure, as well as reducing costs.

Advertisement view and click tracking

Tracking of advertisement views and clicks using javascript and pushing aggregated data into the DB2 back-end system. Also includes an administrative interface for view collated data on adds during various time periods.

Shibboleth authentication regime integration

a-n.co.uk has extensive partnerships with academic institutions in the UK and beyond. In order to server these partners a-n allows partner institutions seamless subscription access via the Shibboleth authentication system as administered by the UK Access Management Federation: ukfederation.org.uk.
This involved integrating the open source Shibboleth system and then tying it into our existing authentication system. In the end users logged in at partner institutions can then access the a-n.co.uk subscriber resources without having to login to the a-n.co.uk website.

Automatic posting of new content to twitter

Content from the a-n.co.uk website is published to twitter in an automated fashion. For example new jobs and opportunities from the Jobs and Opportunities section of the a-n.co.uk website are automatically posted to the a-n jobs and opportunities twitter account: http://twitter.com/#!/an_jobs_opps

Bespoke mailing system for contacting subscribers

An extensive system was created allowing the a-n staff to author html based email templates, pull subscribers and data from the underlying DB2 database, and then mail out emails based on the templates which were merged from the subscriber data pulled from the database. The flexibility of the system allows for near unlimited flexibility in terms of mass mailings that can be generated.

Epdq payment integration

In the course of writing the subscription registration system we integrated the use of Barclay’s Epdq payment gateway for online monetary transactions.


It looks very good, has been very well received and has been immediately put to use!

Richard Padwick, a-n