Recreating the "discovery" experience of a paper newspaper with NYTimes' article skimmer

by David Spark on February 14, 2009

The New York Times online is debuting the prototype of a new way to look at the newspaper’s news. It’s called the article skimmer and it’s fully operational. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

One of the top complaints about Internet news is that we’ve lost the experience of “serendipity” where we stumble over news and stories that we normally would never see. It happens as a result of physically flipping through every page of the paper, causing us to see and read stories we normally wouldn’t.

I would agree and disagree with this long held belief. And it has a lot to do with the individual. Many readers of the Sunday paper pull out their favorite sections and then trash the rest of the paper. Those people will only discover news in categories they’re already interested in. This is similar to people who only visit certain Web sites for news, or only have certain categories of news in their news feed.

News sites and feed readers are already optimized for scanning

I don’t think there was every a need for the NYTimes’ article skimmer. While it initially looks cool, it’s not very usable because your eyes have to scan all over the screen, and anyone in user experience and user interface will tell you that’s not how we look at a computer screen of information. We often like to just read downwards, and most news sites and feed readers allow us to do that. And they put the headlines close together so our eyes don’t have to jump too far to see the next story. Watch this video from Google that shows in real time how one person look at search results. Yes, it’s not news information, but it gives you an idea of how an eye tracks across the screen.

Because of the distant placement of stories, NYTimes’ article skimmer doesn’t allow for this behavior. My feeling is people will be more than happy to just go back to NYTimes.com or their feed reader.

It’s up to the individual to decide if they want to discover content serendipitously

Ultimately though, it’s up to the individual to determine how they want to consume content and if they want to expose themselves to information outside of their traditional interests. I remember when I was working at ZDTV/TechTV I was consumed with tech news. One day it hit me that I hadn’t read a regular newspaper or watched the regular news in weeks. I was completely out of touch with what was going on in the real world and was only concerned with tech news. It was then I realized that I had to keep myself open to what was going on and not to pigeon hole myself in one type of news coverage.

How do you consume your news and would you actually use the NYTimes article skimmer?

ReadWriteWeb has some more on the NYTimes article skimmer.

This news item is for the Spark Minute week of 2/16/09 which can be heard daily on Green 960 and 910 KNEW in San Francisco, CA.

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