Last week the New York Times slipped a social layer right onto the NYTimes.com website, with fair little fan fair. What they call TimesPeople now appears as a floating bar atop NYTimes.com as you read articles, enabling you to friend other NYTimes.com readers, see a feed of articles that your friends or the community at large has recommended, and submit articles yourself to the TimesPeople community. It’s the kind of social layer that all professional content sites can benefit from – and a key example of how “social” really is just ultimately going to be an underlying part to most of our everyday experience (rather than “social networking” requiring specific sites of their own).
This is not the first time we’ve seen a print publisher attempt a transition of their website; in March ‘07 the USA Today re-launched with a social framework. However, the USAToday.com was such a drastic overhaul that it was almost difficult to grasp for the audience; just a few months later, TechCrunch highlighted their stagnant traffic. Looking at the figures today, there’s been strong growth in the year since that review, but it may have been a difficult transition for the USAToday.com audience to make.
NYTimes.com has taken a more subtle approach that does little to change the overall user experience, but definitely enhances it considerably. You browse NYTimes.com like you always do, but now you easily submit and see the best articles from your friends. It’s a valuable social layer that personalizes the “most popular stories” module we’ve been used to seeing on news sites over the last few few years. It seems like the perfect way to introduce such social features to a traditionally older web browsing audience.
TimesPeople isn’t the only sign that the NYTimes.com designers are serious about embracing social media in a smart way. They’re also one of the first to embrace the new canvas-style layouts of iGoogle, which provides a full front page of NYTimes.com directly inside your iGoogle page, without having to leave your homepage to browse the headlines.
It’s great to see the NYTimes.com try to embrace change, develop their site for the better, and introduce a thought out, engaging social layer to the site. It needs work for sure (I can’t see the bar or share articles from David Pogue’s NYTimes.com blog), but it’s a great start. If you are a NYTimes.com reader, connect to me here, and start sharing.