Remember That Time the New York Times Published to Facebook?

Hacking your way to distribution, 2013 style

So the New York Times's main website, nytimes.com, went down this morning, and it only just recently returned. Almost immediately, the newspaper's Twitter feed posted that it would continue updating readers on the crackdown in Egypt:

Soon after, the media critic and Arizona State University professor Dan Gillmor proclaimed that the New York Times should start a secondary blog, hosted on a different server, for emergencies such as this.

Which... the Times did.

Since the newspaper's website started to 404 this morning, it has posted stories -- full news stories, bylined by some of the paper's most recognizable journalists -- on Facebook. As "Facebook Notes." Where they will be seen, and where they will even the populate the News Feed, of some of the paper's 3.3 million Facebook followers.

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Facebook and the New York Times

I have two thoughts about this. First, we're almost past the era where a newspaper doing anything even slightly outré spawns tweets, excitable news stories, comprehensive blog posts. (We're not totally past it because, well, cf. this very article.) The "New Face Times" (my coinage) was delightful, but in a charmingly pedestrian way. Facebook was the best way for the news to get out, so that's how they put it out. 

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Second, the ordinariness of the bespoke New Face Times allows us to notice the extraordinariness -- or, perhaps, the 2013-ness -- of the infrastructure which it inhabits. The paper lost its most prominent platform on the web, so it turned to its second most prominent -- which happens to be hosted by another publicly-owned company which makes most of its money off advertising. (A probably-unrelated-but-nevertheless-curious fact to hold in apposition: Facebook's market capitalization is more than sixty times that of the NYT's.) Even as the site went down, the paper's word factory churned on, and its captains found a place where those words could be read.

The web was built de-centralized, as nearly every history of it will tell you: Huge server farms could catch fire or fall into a sinkhole or disappear but silent, blinking computers could still talk to one another in HTTP. The commercialization of the web has reduced its sprawling stability and centralized it somewhat: Odds are, this article reached you because you saw a link to it on Twitter, Facebook, or one of the other huge, homogenous urban centers sitting fat and wealthy among the more diverse, open, "rural" web. The New York Times Facebook page, with its gray, cascading content strung up on that blue, sans serif frame, shows what decentralization looks like for a major content corporation in 2013. That is: Pile enough other platforms on top of the each other and you might hack your way to distribution.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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