The New York Times is trying to make TimesMachine, its online archive, a little more context-friendly. The new prototype for TimesMachine — which only features six archival issues of the Times at the moment — lets readers zoom, click, and scroll through the Times of the past. Every advertisement, article, and photo is now visible and linkable.
Zooming in on pages provides not only great detail but an amazing depth of context you might not get through searching the archives. Browsing the front-page of the October 5, 1957 edition you’ll see the big story of the day is the Russians launch of Sputnik. That story itself is surrounded by other interesting historical events: Jimmy Hoffa elected president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the beginnings of an Asian flu outbreak in New York, and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus saying he would not back down on integration after President Eisenhower sent National Guard troops to escort black students into Little Rock Central High School.
There’s some interesting technology under the hood of the new TimesMachine that comes from an interesting place:
In order to build the new TimesMachine, we repurposed technology and techniques from an unlikely quarter: geographic information systems. Every scanned issue of The Times is essentially one very large digital image. For instance, our scan of the June 20, 1969 issue is a 13.2 gigapixel image that weighs in at over 200 megabytes. Since it is impractical to transmit such an image to every interested user, we needed to find a way to send only those parts of the scanned paper that a user was actually interested in viewing. To solve this conundrum we turned to tiling, a solution often used to display online maps. With tiling, a large image is broken down into small tiles that are computed at several different zoom levels. When a user wishes to view the tiled image in a browser, only the tiles required to display the visible portion are downloaded. This approach dramatically reduces bandwidth requirements and has the further advantage of allowing users to zoom and drag the larger image.