Read All About It

Starting today, visitors to 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.

In Action

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.

Times Extra Toggle width=

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.

Times Extra

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.

Fear of Design

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.



  1. I love the idea behind this, but not being able to scroll those boxes with the two-finger gesture on my Macbook Pro (or I assume with a scroll-wheel) makes this quite broken.

  2. Sir:

    I am in awe of generally, and hold it up to clients and students as a model of how to present content online.

    But inline scrolling boxes, whether JavaScript or iframe, went out with the 1990s, and for good reason. They are awkward, self-conscious breaks in the surface reality of the page at the best of times, even when not presenting usability and accessibility problems.

    The break in decorum bothers me as a user, not just as a designer; combine it with real usage problems, and I think you have an experiment that I hope will be short-lived.

  3. Khoi: whether or not this is ultimately successful, I think we can all appreciate your comments under the “fear of design” sub-heading. They show a humility and sense of perspective that’s missing from the typical “awesome new feature” announcements– but that we’ve come to expect from you. Thanks.

  4. Khoi, pretty neat man. Great idea and the technology behind it is impressive.

    I do have to agree with the previous comments about the inline scrolling. I’ve never been a fan of them.

    It would make more sense to me, and look better, if you set a limit on the articles displayed and then have a More Articles link that would take you to a page listing all the articles associated with the original.

    Anyway, awesome work nonetheless. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

  5. I think this is a great step forward for the site. My first thought is that I’d rather have this live on the article page. While it’s nice to have some other suggestions based on a title and description, it’s more likely I’ll read through the story and then want to find out more from other sources. Maybe you could stick a small box below the ‘Past Coverage’ links.

    Anyway, you guys are on the right track.

  6. I don’t dislike the idea. However, the scrolling is not too smooth, there seems to be a bit of a delay. Added on top of that, not being able to scroll with the mouse wheel is quite painful.

    If this is the design direction, may I suggest when you focus on an Extra box, the whole box would become bigger, sitting on top of other content, and with mouse scrolling enabled. When minimized, it’d go back to the original size.

  7. I’d love to hear about some of the business challenges this concept faced within the organization. It’s already enough of a challenge for mainstream content destinations to feature links to competitors at all, but to feature them on the front page, right next to the heds&deks;for the NYT’s own native content… well, some might consider that ad revenue suicide.

    On the other hand, from personal experience I know that the NYT home page is such a powerful destination all by itself, and if many other users are anything like me I imagine a great deal of NYT traffic is people who want to view the home page five times a day without ever clicking a single link.

    For users like me, then, this user behavior has a paradoxical effect: By one business metric, the click-throughs, the home page is failing miserably. By another standard, the repeat visits, it’s a smash hit.

    Times Extra, then, is unlikely to negatively affect the business value of users like me. I rarely click any links on the page anyway, but if the Extra links really add value to the page, then as a result I am even more likely to think of the NYT home page as a reliable many-times-a-day destination. Those few times I might click an off-site link instead of a NYT native link will be overshadowed by my increased visits to the home page itself.

    So conceptually and economically I think this is a mighty fine idea. But like Jeffrey, however, I do question the in-line scrollboxes as a design solution. I also am skeptical about the value of automating these links. My whole many-times-a-day (no pun intended) behavior is dependent on the quality and relevance of the content featured therein. If the Extra content doesn’t live up, then the introduction of that content might lower the overall value of the page, not raise it. I’ll keep a wait-and-see open mind about that, as I know well how difficult presenting automated related item links can be.

    Do you at least have the ability to kill or prune the Extra links to help increase the quality and relevance of them?

  8. I like that the scroll bars don’t mess up the natural scrolling behavior of the mouse (when scrolling down and entering the extra info rectangle you don’t end up scrolling that rectangle but remain scrolling the page).

  9. Interesting. I actually *like* the treatment of the inline scrolling boxes, and from a design standpoint, it’s not hard to tell why they were designed that way: to make them less obtrusive and distracting than native HTML scrollboxes. Yes you lose the wheel-scrolling and maybe that can be fixed, but I think those are about the most subtle scrollboxes one could design, so in my opinion, it decreases any perceived negativity of the feature.

    And of course, this is an opt-*in* feature, which means, it can easily be opted *out* of. I applaud the experiment. I’m sure it will be improved on from here.

  10. I dislike these boxes. Who came up with the idea that they have to be scrollable? And why don’t they have native scroll bars?
    Unlike what Mauricio said, they mess up the natural behavior. It would be normal to scroll them with the mouse wheel when you hover over them.
    And from a design standpoint, they are still distracting enough to not give a reason for using these instead of normal ones.
    I would just remove the need to scroll there. Feels not right.

  11. If all else fails, sell it to Google (for millions?). This feature is a jacked up version of Google ad links. Can’t wait to hear if this affected the click traffic throughout the site.

  12. Chris hit the nail on the head, about the NYT home page being a multi-day destination. With the added “Extra” feature it makes the front page even more of a centralized hub or super table of contents to NYT news and others. I am amazed from a biz standpoint that the gray lady is even going down this route, I applaud it. There is always room for refinement, but the 1st iteration of any good idea is oh so easily criticized by us others who did not put ourselves out there and act on an original thought.

    Bravo Senor Vinh. and happy B-day. {yesterday}

  13. I agree with Joe Holmes. I am just checking this out now and think it is a brilliant concept, and very much what we, the readers and the ever growing skeptical public, want right now.

    I also agree with Christopher Fahey–I wonder how this idea was proposed and not shot down? To have competitor news sources and their links below your front page stories is gutsy but brilliant.

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