Big, rapid change can be hard to implement at any organization the size of The New York Times, so I appreciate how the talented journalists, designers, and coders within the Times use offshoot or ancillary projects to try out new features or ways of approaching the news. Its new Election 2012 iPhone app, which launched this morning, features some fresh design elements — most notably, story clusters that tie a Times story to a number of other stories around the web.
For example, the current top story is this one on Democrats seeing the GOP primary as a two-man race. That’s shown as the lead story in a cluster that also includes this Washington Post story, this Business Insider story, and this Washington Examiner story. (Some interesting choices there! I also see links to National Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Talking Points Memo, CNN, and a YouTube video.)
Maybe most interesting of all, one of the current top items in the app isn’t a New York Times story at all. It’s actually a one-sentence summary of a L.A. Times story on Sarah Palin (“Sarah Palin said she would not weigh in early on the G.O.P. race, but she did offer praise for Newt Gingrich and the Trump debate”), on top of a link to the LAT story making that exact point.
The glorified link is given the same weight in the app’s UI as a regular Times story. That feels noteworthy to me — I can’t think of anything else as linkbloggy that the Times has ever done. It’s telling this is happening on the national politics beat, which is both a space where the Times invests heavily in coverage and perhaps the space where the Times faces the most vigorous competition, online and off. A true political junkie probably checks in daily with the Times, the Post, Politico, TPM, the Daily Caller, National Journal, the LAT, particular bloggers — so the key to getting the target market to actually launch this app is probably to satisfy the needs of those wandering eyes.
I assume, but don’t know, that these external links generated using tech from Blogrunner, the aggregator the Times Co. bought some time ago — although the promo site says “our editors” pick the stories, so maybe it’s a human-machine hybrid. (Update: The Times’ Fiona Spruill tells me it’s all human: “the links are hand-picked by an editor. Not using Blogrunner.”) The non-NYT articles open in a webview in the app.
The Times has gone through a few iterations of how best to aggregate the rest of the web for its readers (you may remember Times Extra, the green external links on the front page that lasted only a year), but this one hits an interesting mix of Times dominance and reader service.
Maybe more importantly, the app’s full content is only available to digital or print subscribers, which means it ties into the all-access model our own Ken Doctor talks about so much. For existing subscribers, this’ll serve as a nice surprise, a bonus to send home the value of a sub; for non-subscribers, it’s another little incentive, another reason to pony up.