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Feb. 18, 2009, 1:56 p.m.

How an NYT developer built a new way to read the news online

A new way of reading The New York Times online turns the traditional web-browsing experience on its side. The prototype, which they’re calling Article Skimmer until someone comes up with a better name, presents the latest news in a horizontal grid that looks and feels radically different from the vertically oriented nytimes.com homepage. Check out the video above for a quick tour, or better yet, give it a whirl yourself.

I spoke yesterday with the creator of Article Skimmer, Andre Behrens, a software developer at the Times who specializes in Javascript. “The motivation was the expose more content and to expose more depth,” Behrens said. “The volume of content we produce is just tremendous, and it’s difficult to unearth those little gems that don’t necessarily make the front of the website.”

In a blog post on Friday, Behrens compared Article Skimmer to the experience of “spreading out the paper on a table while eating brunch.” That struck me as an apt comparison that speaks to a frequent criticism of reading the news online, which is a lack of serendipity. In the grid layout of Article Skimmer, each story is given more-or-less equal billing, and it seems more likely that you’d stumble across a story deep inside the Times. Or as Behrens said in our interview, “My goal in doing this was to get more people to read the science section.”

Article Skimmer is based on the Times’ RSS feeds, and Behrens said the programming was “fairly easy, pleasant, and straightforward.” He chose a grid to “ruthlessly rigorize” the material. “I consider it, for me at least, the most efficient way of displaying the information,” Behrens said. “That you can work it with your eyes more than with your mouse.”

Behrens, who also recently developed Times Widgets, said he began Article Skimmer “as a little ditty that I was building in my spare time.” Future iterations could include a way to read articles “within the Skimmer experience,” which would make browsing the Times even more seamless. But for now, the newspaper is making available the prototype for comments and will “grow it to scale” if reaction is positive, according to Stacy Green, a spokeswoman for the Times. And, of course, Article Skimmer still needs a better name.

POSTED     Feb. 18, 2009, 1:56 p.m.
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