Sunday, July 27, 2008

Using The New York Times Reader

A few weeks back, I installed on my computer the "New York Times Reader". It is an application from The New York Times that runs quietly in the background, downloading locally all the articles of NY Times published over the last week. It also provides its own non-browser interface for browsing through the articles. The layout emulates more the layout of a paper newspaper than the layout of a web edition. I have used the reader a little bit when I downloaded it, but then I forgot about it and kept reading the news over the web.

Today, though, I found myself stuck on a 10-hr flight to Greece, with no Internet connectivity. Well, no problem. Actually I enjoy such long flights *because* there is no Internet connectivity and I can really focus on whatever I am doing, without (voluntarily or not) interruptions.

After going through all my email, I answered all the emails that were staying in my inbox for a while, and then I started reading blogs using the offline option of Google Reader. Unfortunately, reading blogs offline is not a very enjoyable experience. Some blogs are simply pointing to external articles, some others have only partial feeds, and some others are not meaningful to read without going over the comments and the discussion. So, quickly, I ran out of stuff to do.

Then, I noticed that I had the paper version of New York Times in front of me. I tried to read a little bit, just to realize that it is a royal pain to read a newspaper with the layout of New York Times on a plane. New York Times deserves and needs a coffee table, not a tray that can barely fit the laptop.

At that time, I realized that I had the Reader available on my laptop. Not sure if it syncs, I opened it. Fortunately, it has been quietly syncing all the material, and now I had one week of New York Times articles at my disposal. They layout was nice, the font type excellent, and the interface very intuitive. Plus the ability to go through all the sections (some of them published only once a week) is a big advantage. Therefore, I happily read one week worth of NY Times (ok, impossible, but it felt like that) on my laptop, ignoring completely the paper version sitting next to me.

Then, I noticed the "search" link. I went to the search screen and I started typing various queries. Well, was I surprised! Search was immediate, "results-as-you-type"-style. Plus the results were nicely organized as a newspaper, and ordered by relevance going from left to right. Here is a screenshot of the results for the query "economy":

Next step: See what is this "Topic Explorer". This generates a result screen like this:
Not very impressive initially, but the more interesting thing happens when you click an article, and you see a list of all the associated topics:
Very easy to go through related articles, easy to see the level of interest for each topic, and so on. I guess a little bit further visualization could also help. Also, some extra work to allow for faceted navigation would make the interface even more interesting. But it is definitely an enjoyable experience as-is, demonstrating the power of truly online interfaces over interfaces that simply try to emulate paper.