The tabletification of nytimes.com
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Today, The New York Times announced a big digital redesign, this time with a big public beta test and, nominally, a feedback mechanism from readers.
It's hard to tell from the outside how important the input of readers will actually be, but that doesn't mean the exercise is all for show. I imagine the Times will be able to collect data on how the readers actually interact with the pages—a data set that often contradicts what users say in a comment field about what is useful and less useful to them.
For those of us not lucky enough to access the Times from inside the company's corporate firewall (employees), or to have been selected as a user of the new version of the site, or to have been accepted (yet) into the program via a sign-up mechanism the paper offered readers today, we've had to make do with the "guided tour" page the company's marketing department has put out. I'm planning a more extensive (and reported) piece on the redesign for Thursday or so.
But there is much to look at here. Click any of these to enlarge them and they'll open in a new window.
Wisely, the redesign is beginning with the article pages. These, as most website proprietors know, are the real points of entry for most readers to a website. They click a link in their email inbox or chat window or on Twitter or Facebook or in a Google search-results page and land, inevitably, on an individual article.
The first thing you notice about the article pages, compared to the current design, is all the white space. Headlines float in a luxurious bedding of white, as do the features along the right rail.
The run of the text isn't crammed out all the way to the edges of the visible page (that would make the lines too long, and therefore make it too hard for readers to scroll from the end of one line to the beginning of the next). But like many current designs, the prejudice that says the text area should be equal to or wider than the photos has been exploded. Photos stretch out pretty far from the text margins on both sides instead of being tucked in among the words with an option to enlarge with a separate click, an activity that's cumbersome and results in opening a lightbox that has to be closed in order to return to the text.
I predict that, at first, many users will find the streamlining a little stressful, especially older readers.
A navigation bar across the top offers the readers a trip back to the homepage (which presumably will remain with its current design for a while longer), and navigation through the paper's "sections," but once you begin to scroll down the page, that navbar freezes in place and changes. Where the "home" button was, there is now only a giant gothic T. Where the "sections" button was is a square with three lines in the center. It's only by pressing this button that you get the overlay of navigational menus you see above here.
Also once you're reading, the area of the navigation bar on the right that offers a sign-in for registered users and a "SUBSCRIBE" button changes into sharing buttons.
So, once you're in the article it takes a bit of understanding to continue to navigate the site. The "sections" option is very smooth, though, and should allow readers to access verticals nicely.
Whatever section you are in determines the content of a second scrollbar across the top. Using a mouse (click and drag) action or a finger swipe, you can scroll this marquee for a complete index of stories in the section you're currently reading in.
Ads are a bit fancier, but not much; with the rails so airy and undefined compared to the current design, you still get your "most read" and various promotional banner ads in the right rail, but they're floating.
I don't know what advertisers will think of it, but from my standpoint as a publisher I'd think they'd like it if they knew what was good for them: The ads stand out much more prominently, and there's a lot less "dilution" or distraction around it. You get the sense almost of a sponsor with this design, despite its fairly standard IAB-unit dimensions. I imagine special ad units will be all over these pages once they're rolled out to the public.
But perhaps the most significant thing is the "responsive design" element. That is, this thing looks pretty much the same on your desktop as it does on your tablet, and the actions you expect from the multi-touch and finger-swipe motions on a tablet are replicable with your mouse.
Which model is eating which? That's a simple one. The actions expected of users on the website mimic actions on a tablet, not the reverse. That is, this is the tabletification (I will not say appification) of the Times website.
I like it so far. But I'm about to get down and dirty with it, and will have a more exhaustive report to publish soon.
What I am a little surprised not to see, yet, is more innovation in the use of social tools and sharing technology. The focus on the article page means to me that the Times, which is a metered website, is hoping to greatly increase the number of subscribers it gains from people who enter the site multiple times per month from a social side-door. It seems a shame that these readers, already self-selected for social behavior on the web, aren't given more fun toys to work with (and more and more interesting opportunities to spread the link to their own followers more often). Annotations, for instance, that create distinct tweet able URLs, so that a reader can point followers not just to the top of an article page but to a paragraph, photo, video or slideshow inside it, for instance. Maybe that sort of stuff is still to come.
To my mind, the Times' emphasis on making the comments more accessible right at the top of the article page is meant as some kind of social convention. They may have the analytics to show that for them, commenting adds real value and increases interest and engagement from side-door readers. I doubt it though. At least, it doesn't much interest me.
In the meantime, read the Times' full announcement by scrolling down to the bottom of the page to our "Inbox" section. (Shortcut: Click here to jump there fast.)
Media news elsewhere:
A writer re-reports Bob Woodward's biography of John Belushi and finds it seriously wanting. [Slate]
An advocacy group publishes the leaked audio of Bradley Manning's testimony in the Wikileaks trial. [Freedom of the Press Foundation]
"Politico Pro," the Washington website's paid insider program, has topped 1,000 subscribers (at more than $3,000 a year each). [PaidContent]
Gawker sports website Deadspin rolls out on Nick Denton's new Kinja platform ... [Deadspin]
... and immediately an enemy trolls it [Bryan Goodman/pandodaily]
"Can anyone turn streaming music into a real business?" (Computer says, "probably not.") [The Verge]
"Video networks" for Condé Nast titles Glamour and GQ [Los Angeles Times]
A cautiously worded article says the Koch brothers may want to buy the L.A. Times. [L.A. Weekly]
When Wired came out, many of Belushi’s friends and family denounced it as biased and riddled with factual errors. “Exploitative, pulp trash,” in the words of Dan Aykroyd. Wired was so wrong, Belushi’s manager said, it made you think Nixon might be innocent. Woodward insisted the book was balanced and accurate. “I reported this story thoroughly,” he told Rolling Stone. Of the book’s critics, he said, “I think they wish I had created a portrait of someone who was larger than life, larger than he was, and that, somehow, this portrait would all come out different. But that’s a fantasy, not journalism.” Woodward being Woodward, he was given the benefit of the doubt. Belushi’s reputation never recovered.
—Tanner Colby, writing on Slate.
Can I get Rodman news blocking?— Jason Gay (@jasonWSJ) March 12, 2013
Gasp as white smoke slipped out. It turned black. Everyone leaving piazza. Also, everyone in Rome has same umbrella. twitter.com/jasondhorowitz…— Jason Horowitz (@jasondhorowitz) March 12, 2013
What if this is all @michaelwolffnyc's clever plan to get a judging cameo on next season's Top Chef?— Sara Morrison (@SaraMorrison) March 12, 2013
Here's the full text of the Times Company's redesign announcement.
THE NEW YORK TIMES ANNOUNCES PLANS TO INTRODUCE A PROTOTYPE VERSION OF NYTIMES.COM IN ADVANCE OF A MAJOR SITE REDESIGN
Article Pages the First to Undergo Changes; Selected Users Encouraged to Provide Feedback
NEW YORK, March 12, 2013 – The New York Times today announced plans to introduce a prototype version of NYTimes.com in advance of a series of major site enhancements that will begin later this year.
The purpose of the prototype experiment is to gain feedback from NYTimes.com users about the functionality, design, navigation and overall experience of the planned redesign.
Starting today, Times employees who access NYTimes.com from inside the Company firewall will be able to experiment with the new article pages, which are the first to undergo changes, and provide feedback on their experience. The public may access a preview of a sample of the redesigned article pages via this animated guided tour.
In the coming weeks, the prototype will become available to a randomly selected group of users outside the Company, who will have the option to utilize it and provide feedback, or opt out if they choose. Users who are not selected may request an invitation to test the prototype on NYTimes.com, though audience size is limited.
The Times will use the feedback as it continues the process of developing a richer digital platform to best showcase its award-winning journalism and premium advertising.
Users who participate in the beta experiment will discover changes to article pages that include:
- A cleaner, more engaging design
- Richer integration of photography, video and interactive story elements
- More efficient customized navigation for registered users
- Responsive designs optimized for desktops and tablets
- Higher-impact presentation of advertising
- Improved ability to scan and discover content
- Better-integrated user-comments and share tools
Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, said, “As we continue to develop our rich content offerings across video, slideshows, data visualization and interactive graphics, these adjustments to NYTimes.com provide the structure our newsroom needs to deliver a best-in-class digital news report.”
Denise Warren, general manager, NYTimes.com and senior vice president and chief advertising officer, The New York Times Media Group, said, “We are constantly looking for ways to better express our journalism and improve our digital experiences, for users and advertisers alike. We trust that our highly-engaged audience will provide constructive feedback about the beta site, which we will consider very seriously as we work to create the most comprehensive and immersive digital news experience we possibly can.”