Thu 04 Dec
Starting today, visitors to NYTimes.com have the option of seeing an enhanced version of our home page that we call Times Extra. This alternate view of the same editorial slate adds links to related coverage from third-party news sources and blogs — right there beneath our main news stories.
Now, I haven’t been posting much about what we’ve been up to at the Times because there’s been so much good stuff (like our voter mood gauge from election night, our holiday shopping guide from David Pogue and our overhauled video library, among many others) that I didn’t want to overrun this blog with press releases.
False modesty aside, I’m making an exception for Times Extra because, well first I think it’s a quiet breakthrough that’s pretty neat, and second, because it’s a concept that I personally hatched on the side with my Times colleague Philippe Lourier, the brains behind our Blogrunner aggregation engine. It was originally something of a lark so we’re pretty happy that it’s finally seeing the light of day (as a beta experiment). Of course, it would still be nothing more than an intriguing idea without the many, many hours of additional dedication from the designers, editors, technologists, the ace project manager and the hard-driving product manager that joined our campaign to make this happen. For their long hours, patience and dedication, I’m incredibly grateful.
Here᾿s how it works: at the top of our home page, just click on the toggle that says “Try our Extra home page” that now appears just below the New York Times logo.
What you get is the exact same home page with an additional, scrollable box of links beneath each of the major news stories. We’ve color-coded these outside sources in green, so that’s your cue that they lead to external content.
Actually, I should say you’ll see these additional modules beneath most of our major news stories. This process is entirely automated, relying on Blogrunner intelligence to match the stories our editors pick with relevant headlines from the thousands of blogs and other news sources that the service is constantly crawling. So sometimes, because of the delicate combination of human curation and automated formatting that drives our home page, no matches come up. We’re working on improving that over time, though.
Finally, one more point: as far as graphic design goes, this is pretty unremarkable stuff. We went through a few iterations to decide what these links would look like, but in truth there’s nothing here that will win points for visual innovation. Or even good looks: the automated manner in which the scrolling boxes are added can create some unintended and undesirable gaps in the page’s layout. And there’s a legitimate argument to be made for the sheer density of what we’ve created here with all of these additional links; our already crowded page only gets more crowded with Times Extra.
Sometimes though, design is a matter of trying to effect material changes to the experience at the expense of aesthetic purity — and opportunities for graphical showmanship. Times Extra is an experiment in modestly redesigning the user experience; whether it’s a success or not is up to you and all of our users. Hopefully enough people will find it useful for us to evolve it further; I don’t think any of us suppose that this is really the last word in how third-party links can be expressed on the site. My point is that, as designers, an aversion to flouting the rules of visual decorum often doesn’t serve us well. Nor for that matter does a fear of failure.