Home NY Times Lets the Public Tinker With its Web Experiments

NY Times Lets the Public Tinker With its Web Experiments

The New York Times has launched a public testing site called beta620 where it will try out new web experiments, some of which will eventually “graduate” to become full-fledged New York Times products. The site launched with seven projects, including instant search, richer community tools, and an HTML5 Web app for the NYTimes Crossword Puzzle.

The site’s welcome post says beta620 “will also be a place where Times developers interact with readers to discuss projects, and incorporate community suggestions into their work.” This audience-friendly approach is a stark reversal from the company’s past approach to web innovation.

The New York Times Insight Lab, previously the company’s only forum for users to give feedback on Web products, is only open by invitation. The Insight Lab “is meant to be more of a closed dialogue with fairly loyal users,” says Kristin Mason, communications manager for The New York Times Company. It has around 2,000 active members who provide “insights on existing projects or specific concepts that are being looked at — and in most cases are far along in development — by The Times.” In contrast, Beta620 features a simple suggestions form as a primary navigation tab, and the fun graphics and accessible language seem designed to encourage the public to poke around and explore.

Moreover, beta620’s transparent format is markedly different from the Web experiments at competing news organizations. Boston.com’s Beta Boston section offers packaged Web apps for testing and simple feedback, but there’s no opportunity for suggestion or discussion. The Washington Post’s WaPoLabs site is totally closed, not even hinting at its current projects unless they’ve been released to the public, like the Trove news aggregation service.

The Times has recognized the importance of open data for several years now, and the launch of their API in 2008 was an important step for the struggling news industry, which must now rely on the rest of the Web to make the most of its wealth of data. The Times has put considerable effort into properly categorizing its content for the open Web, and now it has begun to open its software development to the public, too. Some Web citizens have even taken to redesigning NY Times Web products without being asked.

As of now, only NYT developers can display projects on beta620, but the site has set the tone for a public forum on the future of the Times’ technology, so that could certainly change.

The beta620 site was originally planned for July or August of last year, but other important Web efforts, such as the much-debated paywall, took precedence.

Disclosure: ReadWriteWeb is a syndication parter of the NYTimes.

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