A Farewell to Podium: The Platform that Changed Private School Communication

December 19, 2017 Daren Worcester

It was July of 2005 and the banquet room at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire, was packed with over 200 conference attendees. All were there to learn about Podium, a new software platform from WhippleHill that promised to change how private schools communicated.

Travis Warren speaking at a User Conference.“We were all a little nervous,” Warren admits. “We’d been promoting Podium to schools for months. This was the moment of truth. We were a scrappy little company, there were no guarantees.”

In the keynote presentation, Warren explained that Podium would change how schools communicated through a suite of integrated tools from a website content management system to filterable calendars and academic course pages. All of which would keep parents, students, faculty, and alumni informed by funneling information to personalized portals.  

“From the standpoint of where we were coming from,” said Jeff Ritter, chief information officer at St. John’s School, “it was groundbreaking. We were amazed at how content could be aggregated from so many different areas.”

“It’s easy to forget,” Warren said, “but when we started working on Podium, Phillips Exeter alum Mark Zuckerberg was still at Harvard, YouTube didn’t exist, WordPress wasn’t a thing, and it was still a few years before Google would release their calendar. These concepts were all new and exciting.

“These days, every school has a portal in some shape or form, but at the time, it was completely new. We spent a lot of time explaining what a portal was. Other companies offered pieces of what we doing, but no product pulled it all together like Podium did.”

 

The inspiration for Podium began through a collaboration with Cranbrook Schools to create a transformative website and community intranet. Built on WhippleHill’s Backroom2000 platform, the new Cranbrook site provided constituents with an unprecedented view of school life through a beautiful front-end website for admissions prospects and a password-protected portal page, dubbed CranNet, for current families.

“CranNet was a major achievement for WhippleHill and Cranbrook,” Warren said, “but it was custom coded and work intensive. We knew that to make it feasible for other schools, we had to turn it into a scalable software solution.”

Work was underway before Cranbrook launched, and in April of 2005, the first Podium websites were released. The ensuing success of Podium launched a new era of online communication for private schools that also changed the perception of WhippleHill as a company known for award-winning school websites into an industry leader in software solutions.

By 2010, it was becoming clear that advances in Web technologies were outpacing Podium.

“The ability of browsers to quickly process Javascript,” said Kelsey Warren, director of product development in Blackbaud’s K-12 Group, “and the spread of high-speed broadband internet connections,” led to companies such as Facebook and Google creating browser-based applications with rich, interactive user experiences.

“We knew it was only a matter of time before school constituents began to expect the same type of user experience. The advent of smartphones and tablets also meant that Web applications needed to be built with responsive web design. In order for our products to be client-side and responsive, we had to completely rework the presentation layer of Podium.”

The rework of Podium became what we know today as the ON products, Blackbaud K-12’s interconnected school management system. Schools began upgrading to ON in 2013, and two years ago we set December 31, 2017 as the end of life date for Podium. As of December 22, 2017, the last Podium school has upgraded.

It’s worth noting that the book isn’t fully closed on Podium yet as there’s still legacy functionality within some ON administrative tasks. These bridged features will be phased out through the SKY initiative to provide a seamless user experience across all Blackbaud products. In the short term, the retirement of the final Podium website means that all customers will now benefit from the resource reallocation of Blackbaud K-12’s hosting, product development, and support teams.

Exceeding the end-of-life goal by over a week is a significant accomplishment that required considerable cooperation amongst our schools and our team.

“A lot of people have been on this journey with us from Podium to the ON products,” Travis Warren said. “Podium changed everything as we know it today, and we couldn’t have done it without the support of our schools. Thank you to all involved.”

About the Author

Daren Worcester

Daren Worcester has been a member of the Blackbaud K-12 team for 15 years, assisting hundreds of independent schools through a variety of website development roles. A former copywriter and a published author with an appetite for SEO, Daren currently serves as the senior content marketing manager for K-12.

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