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May 14, 2009, 9:43 a.m.

If The N.Y. Times were mounted on your wall, it might look like this

We’re back in Living Room 2.0 at The New York Times Co. today for their research and development group‘s vision of how news will fit into the armchair experience of the future. Ted Roden, a creative technologist in the group, describes two applications for Times content that might work well on your television or other large screens.

The commuter app is a mashup of publicly available traffic cameras, Google Maps, and location-specific content from the Times. Laying out news on a map is a tired concept that rarely lives up to its promise, but this app points to what feels like a truly effective use of geocoded articles and blog posts: informing me of what stands between my current location and my destination. In his keynote address at the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference, design integration editor Nick Bilton discussed some other promising uses of geocoded news.

Roden also demonstrates what RSS feeds, Twitter, and other lifestreams might look like in the living room. The concept seems poised to go mainstream this year or next with Yahoo’s widgets for web-enabled televisions, though who knows if people really want their friends’ tweets to share the screen with Lost. (There’s evidence they do.)

It’s important to note that the R&D group doesn’t expect people will mount four screens on the wall of their living room, awesome as that would be. Their best guess is that consumers will segment their widescreen TVs in the style of cable news channels. A lot of innovation will be required to make that a pleasant experience. My living room is a two-screen operation — three, if you count a picture frame that could be repurposed to display the latest New York Times photography — and it works pretty well, even if I can’t yet flick a Mark Bittman video over to my television.

This is the fourth installment of our five-part series on the Times R&D group. Tomorrow we’ll conclude with their stabs at the future of advertising. A transcript of today’s video is after the jump.

Ted Roden: We were looking at that Jeff Han video wall, which I imagine you’ve seen.

[Clip from CNN]

Abbi Tatton: This is from John Laura, who’s in the northern part of the state. But this kind of thing above the highway seems to be a theme today.

[End of clip]

Roden: And our thought was, you know, these TVs, they’re so big and they’re so thin — they’ll get bigger and thinner, but not much. But one of the things you’ll be able to do with them is going to be touch. They’re going to add in new features. All TVs now have, are going to have Internet capability and, soon enough, probably touch.  So one of the things you’re going to be able to do with that is say, I want my stocks to be this big, I want my email to be this big, and then I want the TV to be this big. And then you sit back, and you can kind of watch your email filter in and then your stocks come in and then watch TV at the same time. And it was with that kind of thought that we built these apps on these screens. […]

This is our commuter app that we’ve been working on. And this is pretty interesting. These are all things that are kind of publicly available, but again, on so many different sites. These are actually traffic cams that are from the New York City Department of Transportation. And you can get one at a time here. But what we’ve done is we all mapped our routes on the way into work here in the morning and grabbed — this is actually Nick’s route because he has the most interesting route — and we grabbed web cams from along the way showing the actual live traffic conditions. You can tell it’s raining out. These are totally live.

And what’s great about this is he can glance at it in the morning before he heads out and see what’s traffic like before he gets into the tunnel as he rides his scooter in from Brooklyn. And so he can say, do I need to take the tunnel or can I take the bridge? And he actually will look at this every morning. There’s an iPhone version of this, too, that he can pull out, and when he gets to an intersection just before it, where it says, should I take the tunnel or the bridge? And it actually saves a lot of time in the morning.

And also, we pipe in live traffic alerts from Yahoo, and all of our content is geocoded as well. And so the City Room blog has a lot of stuff throughout the city, so you see a lot of City Room content springing up on there. And it’s kind of a great way to get another quick glance overview of what’s going on.  

And the final piece to this is just a lifestream app.  Now they have these on the desktop. You can get these.  All this one does is filter in your RSS feeds, your TimesPeople feeds, Twitter, it’s got Friendfeed, it’s got Facebook. Kind of any social updates that you can have will show up on here. And these are all live. These are things from just the past few days. And this isn’t a new concept, but our thought was, what happens when this makes it into the living room, and how does that change the course of things?

So on your desktop, you’d click, you’d see a link here, and you would click on the link and it would open in your browser. But what happens when you’re not at your browser? So one of the thoughts was, we have— Mike recently shared a Mark Bittman video, and Mark Bittman is our resident cook, cooking guy. He does these great videos and great articles and great recipes around food and things like that, and they’re in the Times all the time. So what we can do with this here is, you would click on this, and it would take you off to the website, and you could look at the recipe and all that. But in the living room, what you can do is drag that over to the TV, and it plays right on the TV.

And, of course, that brings up the CustomTimes on my phone, too, since I’m in the room. It opened up, it opened up on my phone. And so now I can actually delve deeper in. I can see some photos from the shoot. Click on it here, and it shows it on the TV. And I can also click on the recipe, so I can actually follow along with what he’s cooking on the recipe. And then, if I wanted to, I could go to the website. You know, I could click through it on the link and read the actual big article he wrote along with it. But here in the living room, this kind of a much more sit-down approach to that.

And also, we did look at this as far as ads go. So let me just stop that there. So we looked at this as far as ads go because a lot of times, you know, part of this news feed is just things my friends are saying. And a lot of times my friends talk about products. Someone just bought an iPhone, or someone didn’t like their flight or whatever it is.  

And so we looked at how will advertising work in this world.  And so we can just take like here, Nick just tweeted. He’s a big clothes horse, and the new Ralph Lauren line is out, he says. It looks awesome. Now we can just look at that and say, this is the new line of Ralph Lauren, and we can parse that out and figure out what’s going on and figure out if we have an ad based on that. So we fling that over and see what he’s talking about there, and the ad comes up. Now that could easily be a video or even a coupon that gets sent to your phone or anything like that, but all kind of based around how this plays out in the living room.

POSTED     May 14, 2009, 9:43 a.m.
PART OF A SERIES     The New York Times R&D Lab
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