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March 10, 2011, 2:30 p.m.

The NYT adds recommendation features to its article pages

We wrote a few weeks back about The New York Times’ new recommendation engine: a customized page that displays Times articles you’ve consumed over the past month, broken down by topic, and that suggests other articles you might be interested in.

It’s a fascinating feature — a way to bring a little bit of personalization to the editorially-driven experience that is NYTimes.com. It’s also existed, though, essentially in private beta. To see the Times’ you-tailored article recs, you’d have to know that those recommendations were available to you in the first place. There was no obvious way to get your recommendations beyond knowing — or being sent a link to — their URL.

Today, though, the Recommendations feature is launching in fully public form: Not only has a press release announcing the feature been sent out, but the Times, more interestingly, has added a “Recommended for You” tab next to the “Most Emailed” tab on article pages’ Most Popular module. If you’re logged into NYTimes.com, you’ll see a list of 10 recommendations under the tab. (According to the Times, I might be interested in learning more about: the iPad 2, the marketing industry, David Broder, air pollution in Wyoming, and a turtle in Hanoi that “escapes would-be rescuers.” Which, yep, seems about right.) And users who aren’t logged in, by the way, can still receive suggestions – on both on the Recommendations page and under the Recommended for You tab on article pages. But the lists are abbreviated, and based only on those users’ most recent reading history.

If you want a fuller customization experience, a click on the module’s “All Recommendations” link will send you to your personal Recommendations dashboard — which features 20 article recs, along with a detailed breakdown of your most-read subjects, both over the past 30 days and overall. An illuminating, if potentially shame-inducing, experience.

There’s a nice elegance to the recommendation’s integration into the Times’ site design: It’s obvious without being intrusive. And it’s an intriguing way to solve a common challenge: giving readers a news experience that is both helpfully customized and helpfully serendipitous. “To me, no matter what the model, the more people who read and are engaged with your website or your digital products, the better,” Marc Frons, the Times’ CTO for digital operations, told me at the feature’s soft launch last month. “So the recommendation engine just fits into our overall strategy of increasing user engagement.”

Now that’s it more integrated, it also offers a nice opportunity for advertiser engagement. The official launch of the Recommendations feature is sponsored by Thomson Reuters — you’ll see small ads on the Most Popular module and a bigger one on the Recommendations dashboard. And the product will be open to sponsorships by other advertisers going forward.

And while, for now, the Recommendations tab is present only on Times article pages, the hope is to expand its presence onto the Times homepage “within the next few weeks” — which will allow the paper, intriguingly, to compare the performance of the module on the homepage versus on the article pages. It’ll be fascinating to learn those data, particularly in light of the fact that the Times, like a number of news outlets, gets over half of its traffic directly from homepage visits. And it’ll be interesting, more broadly, to see how the Recommendations feature performs now that it’s moved beyond its “news nerd only” phase: How will regular users respond to the Times’ recs? Will their integration on the site meaningfully affect user engagement? Those data will be instructive to all of us. After all, as Mathew Ingram recently put it: “Recommendation is still the holy grail for news.”

POSTED     March 10, 2011, 2:30 p.m.
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