The NYT just rolled out a beta of something they're calling MyTimes. As a daily reader of both the print and online editions, I'm intrigued by new developments and ideas at the NYT, and I've been pleased with their recent site redesign. MyTimes, however, strikes me as somewhat misguided.First off, the name MyTimes sounds like a portal, recalling the confused era when every company wanted to make a my-prefixed version of their site. Unfortunately, it also evokes the subsequent realization that what people really wanted was not control over layout and content, but greater system intelligence — smarter defaults, recognition of the things they normally do, a clever way of pointing them toward related things. The portal-sounding name wouldn't even be so bad if MyTimes didn't look and act like portal. Alas, it's got all sorts of crap to add and move around and modify, allowing the reader to add RSS feeds from anywhere on the web, view movie times, weather, Flickr images, whatever. To me, the problem is that the NYT isn't "whatever." It's the authoritative source. So why all the other stuff?A better question: What problem is MyTimes supposed to be solving? What is the user goal is it addressing? One would do research to answer these questions, but — to be self-referential — my own goals in reading the NYT: Get the authoritative answer, enjoy great writing, forumlate opinions on complex problems. A major problem of MyTimes is that the NYT is trying to be both the authoritative source, and the delivery mechanism of any other source you might want.So, my advice to the New York Times …
- Bring related information to me. Focus my attention to the news of the day, but make it easy to navigate to related things. These things may be within the NYT, or outside. Use what you know about me — from observing my behavior — to point me toward related things. Think Amazon, not Google Homepage or MySpace. Amazon remembers what you like, points you toward related stuff, tells you what other people have looked at, etc. It knows you; you don't HAVE to tell it anything.
- Don't create a separate place that requires configuration and expect that I will go there and wait for the information to start rolling in. The established framework works: Start at the homepage, drill to the detail. Why create another starting place?
- Integrate the good things from MyTimes — the journalist pages, for instance, are a cool idea, and they are most appropriately accessed within the existing framework. Localized content like weather and movie listings are fine, but I don't understand why this needs to be separate from the existing framework of the NYT pages. Basically: Integrate the reader into the NYT, don't create a separate place for him/her. Learn my zip code, remember it, push relevant local content to me. End of story. (And just because Flickr has an RSS feed doesn't mean it's worthy of your brand. You're the New York Times! You've got the best photojournalists in the world! Get rid of it!)
While I'm on the subject, two additional things I'd like to see …
- More exposure to the Times' excellent archival journalism. Why not plumb the back catalog, and expose some of it to the readers? Many articles about current events refer to past events. Why not provide a list of related links to previous articles more often? Of course, I'd expect that this content would be free — not only because I'm a cheapskate — but because I would think it would pique people's interest in seeing more of it, which would of course cost money.
- More journalist blogs and discussion. The Public Editor's column has become one of my favorite parts of the paper, and he blogs about interesting journalistic issues as well.Here's a great one about Nicholas Lemann's article about citizen journalism in the New Yorker.
In any case, there are roughly one thousand web sites offering up customizable info widgets, web-wide RSS feed aggregation, and so forth. The NYT should continue to focus on the content, and leave the aggregation to someone else.