'New York Times' goes social with TimesPeople

In the manner of Facebook and Digg, the social-news application lets people see which stories their friends are commenting on and recommending.

CNET News.com's Caroline McCarthy interviews two NYTimes.com
software engineers for a video in collaboration with Beet.tv.
Note: The spelling of Derek Gottfrid has been corrected.
(Credit: Beet.tv)

The New York Times has added a new feature to its Web site that takes a few cues from Facebook and Digg: TimesPeople, now in beta.

TimesPeople users can build up friends lists and can see a "news feed" of which stories their friends are recommending, sharing, and commenting on. Times online readers have been able to comment on stories, as well as rate reviewed restaurants and movies, for some time now, but recommending is new.

The TimesPeople drop-down menu, with a news feed and people search. NYTimes.com

TimesPeople is currently available only as a Firefox browser plug-in, but software engineers told CNET News.com that it would eventually be more widely available and without a download required. New features will be added too, but don't expect the venerable newspaper to try to compete with Mark Zuckerberg: Engineers stressed that the Times will always be an information source, not a social network. That's why the TimesPeople application is extremely light and minimal--profiles are limited to locations and user icons, and content from the social feature is limited to a "news feed" page and a drop-down menu. However, at some point, a "Most Recommended" tab may join the popular "Most E-mailed" story list that the Times' site displays.

The TimesPeople iPhone interface. NYTimes.com

Outside NYTimes.com, you can subscribe to a feed of an individual's activity using RSS, or browse your friends' updates with a specialized iPhoneinterface; TimesPeople members can also push their updates to their Facebook profiles by syncing the two. And if you'd rather just be an observer, you can subscribe to friends' updates on NYTimes.com while leaving your own feed updates turned off.

Many print publications have been working on social-news projects, primarily by partnering with existing sites like Digg . Conde Nast's Wired Digital went ahead and acquired Reddit. Critics might say that by building a social-news technology in-house, the Times is hurting itself by not tapping into the user base of an existing site.

But here's the catch: while NYTimes.com content is free, it requires a log-in to read more than a story or two at a time. The Times, consequently, has millions of user accounts already on file.

This story was researched and reported in collaboration with Andy Plesser of Beet.tv, who produced the video.

About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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