What do IDx people think of the new NYTimes News Reader?

20 Sep 2006 - 12:57pm
8 years ago
2 replies
745 reads
Christine Boese
2006

I got this off another news clip service I'm on...

*NYT Finally Creates a Readable Online Newspaper*
(*Slate*)<http://www.mediabistro.com/rd/shafernytreader?http://www.slate.com/id/2149888/>
Jack Shafer: About six months ago, I canceled my *New York
Times*subscription because I had found the newspaper's redesigned Web
site to be
superior to the print *Times*. I've now abandoned the Web version for the New
York Times Reader <http://firstlook.nytimes.com/index.php?cat=4>, a new
computer edition that has entered general beta release.

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
the beta:

#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
carriage" retrenchment?

#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
validated?

#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
users.

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

Comments

22 Sep 2006 - 2:20pm
jbellis
2005

Chris,
I can't base an opinion on the actual merits of the reader, since I didn't go so far as to actually use it but I looked at the sales pitch and have some feedback on 3 of your questions.

1. It is not a step forward. "Reader" solutions in general, no matter what good intentions and features accompany them, are the ultimate expression of "vendor values," not user values. (Ultimately even PDF will die for all the reasons you enumerate.) Which gets to question 2.

2. The ultimate vendor value is to avoid slipping into the aby$$. Nowhere is this more acute than with all companies that make their living printing on paper, from book publishers to newspapers. I publish a book and I can tell you that the fear generated by Amazon's reselling of used books is absolutely huge. Think of the worst panic attack you ever had, or have seen. Now imagine newspaper folks, from magnates to mail-room clerks, going to work everyday, spending 10 hours in that panic state. "REASON" is out the window. They can barely retain anyone who wants to spend $200 per year (as I still do) to ship stacks of pulp around the neighborhood in trucks filled with $3 gasoline, carried by well-health-cared union drivers. They suspect, and they might be right, that the print lovers won't live forever. The reader software, underneath all the features, is probably a copy-minimization strategy.

3. Can you point me to a favorite article that explains why I want a newsreader? Or write one yourself? On two attempts to get the fever, I gave up. This, despite the fact that I spend most lunchtimes reading stuff from the web... that I print out and read while walking.

Thanks, Jack

>>>>>>>>Christine Boese christine.boese at gmail.com
Wed Sep 20 10:57:55 PDT 2006

..superior to the print *Times*. I've now abandoned the Web version for the New
York Times Reader <http://firstlook.nytimes.com/index.php?cat=4>, a new
computer edition that has entered general beta release.

So #1: How is re-creating a facimile of a print newspaper online a step forward
for interactive media? #2 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? #3 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

22 Sep 2006 - 5:30pm
gretchen anderson
2005

>is it just a kind of "horseless carriage" retrenchment?

Yes it is a bit of a horseless carriage. But the things I thought were nice
about the NYT thing are actually just basic good interactions that tend to
be missing from news sites today:

- sizing column widths dynamically: if I make my window wide two columns
turn into 3 that are still easy to scan. Stuff like this isn't
groundbreaking, but it's hard to implement, so most "papers" don't.

- performance: I tend to skim stories and related stuff so not having the
page load thing helps the "flow" just like in the "real" paper.

- multi-media/video integration: there's better support for this which helps
get at another good observation...

> is there a REASON to make heroic efforts to lure print readers online?

I think this was more of a "MSFT wants to showcase their technology and NYT
was a good partner for it" situation. But that being said, I don't think
it's about luring print readers, but finding a way to improve online news
and bring different media together.

I'm intrigued that many people have mentioned RSS. I have to say I don't get
the advantage. I felt overwhelmed when all of the potential things I'm
interested in came to me. I actually like wading out into the
blogoshpere/newsosphere to see what's there that I'm not already looking
for.

I personally like the "editorializing" that happens on a site, and there's
Google news for everything else. ;) What am I missing about RSS? Do those of
you really using RSS still go surf? Or is the world really at your fingers?
How do you avoid feeling drowned in information?

Gretchen

Syndicate content Get the feed