So I went around to try to sign up for it and get a look. Couldn't, because
the Times IT dept overlooked making its beta available for Macs. I scanned
through the screenshots, tho, and the comments on the blog preview of
features, sneek peek #1 and #2.
Jack Shafer isn't exactly an IDx person. I know my initial impressions are
that it looks like the International Times Herald (is that the right name?)
with a horizontal orientation I just can't stand (the Times Herald often
requires horizontal scrolling).
But I think I have bigger reservations about the entire concept behind this,
and I'd really be interested in what people on this list think. Here's just
a summary of questions I'd want answered, if I were actually able to test
#1: How is re-creating a facimile of a print newspaper online a step forward
for interactive media? Is it really, or is it just a kind of "horseless
#2: Code. The big deal here is that it uses Microsoft .NET and advancers on
Vista technology. I smell a walled garden. Is this XML-compatible?
RSS-enabled? Is it even in HTML code that can be copied and pasted? W3
#3: Hyperlinks. Will the text accomodate them? Will the Times use them? Or
by anchoring themselves firmly in a "reader" technology, perhaps a
completely web-independent application, is the Times trying to go beyond
simply a code-walled garden and also create a strong CONTENT walled garden
as well (most popular features be damned?) Is this TimesSelect on speed?
#4: Audience. Presumably the Times has some research that shows a need to
court its paper-bound print-loving audience to its online products by making
the online products more like the print products (the cross-pollination
works both ways, right? Didn't the Times print edition just decide to use
some typography and shading features to distinguish "hard news" from
editorials, theater criticism, and gossip columns? I have not seen the print
edition to verify this, as I've only read about it. I'm a devotee of the
online edition pretty exclusively, but not, of course, TimesSelect).
But my question about audience is this: is there a REASON to make heroic
efforts to lure print readers online? Isn't the bigger issue trying to keep
print readers attached to print, so that the ad-driven print editions don't
have to go the way of the dinosaur? The online news audience is already
massive, and studies have shown that during the recent wars, large numbers
of people were turning away from traditional news providers and outlets to
seek out other sources of information, particularly international
information, on the Internet and with news feed readers (RSS/Atom).
So in a competitive online news landscape, the Times makes a strategic turn
to become more like its print product? And this will lure large numbers of
online news readers back to the Times exclusively exactly HOW? Especially if
it is a walled garden that doesn't integrate well into the Blogosphere or in
RSS news feed readers?
People like Terry Heaton and other media consultants (Heaton has a terrific
blog, if you haven't found it yet) are going out and telling traditional
news media outlets that they have to move more strongly into an environment
of UNBOUND media, to make their products more maleable for an unbound
Internet environment. It appears the Times is not a company that has
purchased Heaton's services lately.
#5: Usability and Design. I've already mentioned the Mac incompatiblity. In
truth, the CNN Pipeline project didn't start out Mac compatible either, and
for some reason chose to marry itself exclusively to the Windows Media
Player (that does now work on a Mac, although it didn't for a long time).
What other usability and design issues are present in this Times Reader
technology? I'll leave that to you folks, once I hear some feedback from
people who were actually able to install it and use it. From the
screenshots I've seen, there seem to be very little functionality or
interactive user-customizable features at all. I don't know. Color me
stupid, but my gut reaction is that this is nothing more than another
variant of the exact PDF version of the paper that the Times put out, only
perhaps with better text searching features and dynamic text flow (meaning
I'd bet it is XML-based instead of PDF-based, only with some custom-built or
Microsoft-blessed walled garden DTD).
You know, for the money the Times spent on this (and the experienced
journalists the Times Group laid off this past year), I'd have thought the
best use of resources for a big media company would be to develop a really
KILLER RSS feed reader, one that finally gets over the usability threshold
that keeps feed readers in "blinking 12-land" for most casual Internet
I mean, I know there are a lot of good feed readers out there (I favor
Bloglines myself), but have any of you tried to convert non-techie
co-workers into using a feed reader lately? I can't for the LIFE of me
figure out why there's so much resistance to something so purely wonderful
and empowering, something I believe is clearly the killer app on par with
the first Mosaic browser in 1993. But because feed readers caught on bottom
up instead of top down, there's not only usability problems for the broadest
audience, there's also a void at the top, by companies like the Times,
afraid to embrace and run with the concept too fully.
Chris <----hi my name is Chris and I've lurked here since forever.
christine boese www.serendipit-e.com