HOME
          
LATEST STORY
From Nieman Reports: Digital is bringing un grand dérangement to French news institutions
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Aug. 19, 2011, 2:30 p.m.

Meet Ochs, a Chrome extension that dresses up the NYT

The Gray Lady gets a new outfit from a former developer.

Redesigning a news site is simple — that is, until you add in the content, ads, in-house promotions, comments, departmental politics, and performance issues.

There’s been no shortage of attempts to re-imagine The New York Times site, whose design dates back to 2006. The latest offering is a little different from the others, though: Michael Donohoe, a Seattle-based developer who recently left the Times after seven years there, has built a Google Chrome extension that dynamically re-skins the Times’ website. It’s called Ochs, as in Arthur, and it uses CSS and JavaScript to create a sort of living mockup, powered by real content.

It’s an uncluttered, iPad-inspired look (a lot like the Times’ newish Opinion Pages). Headlines and body text are set in Cheltenham, the Times’ serif of choice since 2003, instead of plain-vanilla Georgia.

Donohoe tells me he is not trying to Fix The New York Times; he’s scratching a longtime itch. While at the Times, there were parts of the site that pleased no one, he says, but never got fixed. “For example, that left navigation on the homepage. People generally know that as an eyesore. People don’t actually click on it. People don’t use it,” he told me. “They recognize that there’s a problem, but they can’t figure out what the solution is — or they can’t find a consensus on a solution that would work.”

It’s a problem for any large news site, not unique to the Times: how to reinvent a complex, heavily trafficked news environment while keeping the whole thing running smoothly. Donohoe said he built his design for the user he knows best: himself. “There are things that I got rid of or things I didn’t like” — Today’s Paper, for example, or the Video vertical. (“People don’t click on that, either,” he added. “I can’t recall a specific internal report that said it, but you could kind of hear people talking about it in the background.”)

He also cut out a lot of the ads, which is the most common bit of criticism he receives about Ochs. On the NYTimes.com homepage today, I count 12 display ads, seven of them in-house ads. On Donohoe’s version of the same page, I count one.

The ads are absent for technical reasons, he said, because he’s trying to figure out how to preserve them without breaking his layout. Eventually, “my goal is to restore as many ads possible.”

While he’s at it, though, Donohoe is thinking out loud about improving the ad experience. He is resurrecting some ideas from the very early Times redesign days, back in 2005, the no-such-thing-is-a-bad-idea days. One idea is what he calls “progressive advertising” (or perhaps regressive advertising), wherein a user sees fewer and fewer ads the longer he navigates the site. And then there’s the idea of hiding ads for paying subscribers, which the Times rejected early on.

“There are definitely people who thought, ‘Well, I paid for the Times, I shouldn’t see adverts.’ I’m in that camp, personally,” Donohoe said. Then again: “You could argue that people are willing to pay for the Times, so they are a more and more valuable audience for the Times” (and its advertisers).

The user base for Ochs is small — 240 a week, according to the Chrome store, a fraction of a fraction of one percent of the Times’ audience. “If this had 100,000 users tomorrow, I’d say, ‘Well that’s crazy,’ and that would be affecting The New York Times’ bottom line.” And from the Times itself — or, at any rate, Donohoe’s former colleagues at the Times — he’s received only positive feedback, Donohoe said, save for a little concern that it’s an attempt to skirt the paywall. (It’s not.)

“Not to sound selfish, but I’m kind of doing it for myself,” Donohoe said. “I just use this as a mental exercise when I need a break from my other work. It’s…a work in progress. I’ll spend an hour on a Thursday night just padding pixels.” Ochs is a labor of love, he stresses, not an attempt to “initiate reform.”

See the current NYTimes.com home page and the Ochs version below:

Current New York Times home page

Ochs version of New York Times home page

POSTED     Aug. 19, 2011, 2:30 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
From Nieman Reports: Digital is bringing un grand dérangement to French news institutions
Ousted editors, newsroom revolts, and government subsidies — welcome to French journalism’s battle for survival.
A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
“I hear the argument, Oh, these poor little magazines with their tiny readerships, if only people appreciated them more. It’s partly true. But the bigger side of that is, well, if only you knew how to read a budget. If only you actually knew anything about publishing.”
The New Inquiry: Not another New York literary magazine
For New Inquiry publisher Rachel Rosenfelt, building cultural significance was easy — building a sustainable business is the hard part.
What to read next
727
tweets
When it comes to chasing clicks, journalists say one thing but feel pressure to do another
Newsroom ethnographer Angèle Christin studied digital publications in France and the U.S. in order to compare how performance metrics influence culture.
714Wearables could make the “glance” a new subatomic unit of news
“The audience wants to go faster. This can’t be solved with responsive design; it demands an original approach, certainly at the start.”
592Ken Doctor: Guardian Space & Guardian Membership, playing the physical/digital continuum
The Guardian is making its biggest bet on memberships and events by renovating a 30,000 square foot space to host live activities in the heart of London.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Bloomberg Businessweek
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
NPR
Byliner
Storify
ABC News
Grist
The Bay Citizen
Placeblogger
Foreign Policy
Knight Foundation
Center for Investigative Reporting