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The NYTimes.com (NYSE: NYT) is rolling out a “new features” site beta620 to the public in a bid to solicit more involvement on the site’s features from its most devoted users and ultimately, outside developers.
Beta620 — the number refers to the New York Times’ building address on 8th Avenue — is now accessible to all NYTimes.com users, paid and unpaid (you have to be registered to comment). It was first introduced last summer in a memo and was originally slated to publicly debut a few months after. However, as resources were shifted to get the metered paywall set up this past spring, Beta620 was delayed.
With the subscription plan up and running, the technology team finished the project. It is opening with seven projects/features:
— TimesInstant: an instant search function to make finding items within NYTimes.com easier, simpler and more effective. The immediate feedback allows users to modify their query based on the results.
— Community Hub: a dashboard of daily social activity on NYTimes.com, including comments, reviews and recommendations
— NYTimes Crossword Web App: The popular print feature has been difficult to translate to online, but now site uers can access the app through the HTML5 functionality. Players can store the portions they’ve completed for offline usage
— Longitude: an interactive map of the day’s news, using linked open data
— The Buzz: an app that aggregates and displays data on the social media buzz about a particular article, video or graphic
— Smart Search Bar: instantaneous, relevant and semantically-aware search results from the homepage of NYTimes.com.
— Times Companion: an app that delivers in-depth, context-relevant content to readers via page overlays.
The site will be continually updated with new projects, updates to current features. There is a “What’s Going On” tab that shows the latest posts and updates on the site, as well as a Graduates tab, which highlights and provides updates on former beta products that are existing features on NYTimes.com.
Right now, the projects on Beta620 are submitted by employees only, though anyone can comment on them or provide suggestions for improvement. Eventually, the NYT will open the site up to allow outside individuals and developers to submit their own proposals. At the moment, the best outsiders can do is send along recommendations for what the NYT
R&D technology staff should be working on.
The projects that appear on the site are positioned as prototypes, so users can go in and play around with them and give feedback. Because they’re in beta, the NYT expects the prototypes will continue to develop as users weigh in on what they like and what they don’t.
The promotion of Beta620 is an acknowledgement that even with the growth of its tablet and mobile versions of the newspaper, the website is still the largest venue for the NYT’s readership. The move also recognizes that in order to get users excited about new features, it has to take a more hands off approach and invite as many ideas as possible.