New York Times Wants to Be the Pandora of News
A new "active personalization" feature will give the Grey Lady a facelift
The New York Times is beginning to roll out an experimental new approach to personalized news that the Poynter Institute compares to Pandora's approach to suggesting music based on what users say they like. The paper is trying to provide a more social news experience that includes not only personalization but also a reader reputation system and new approach to commenting. So far, most of the new additions have been happening behind the scenes--rethinking how to do recommendations and tweaking algorithms. When the toolbar for TimesPeople, a simple social network launched in 2008, disappeared this week, Poynter's Jeff Sonderman suspected something biggest was in store and reached out to chief technology officer Marc Frons who explained some upcoming features.
Active Personalization. Six months ago, The Times launched a personalized recommendation feature that Frons says "really [exceeded] expectations in terms of usage and clickthroughs." Fron says that boost that success with new features that are differ from the typical Amazon approach of recommending items that are similar to other items you've seen. "What is new about what we’ve done is how it figures out what to give you next based on what you’ve read," Fron told Poynter. "Our algorithm tries to figure out complementary or even disparate matches that will help expose you to what we think are things you would be interested in, rather than just topics.”
Reputation System. In describing what's happened to TimesPeople, Fron hints at a "more integrated offering around social interaction" due out this fall. While he doesn't go into specific features, the primary goal sounds in line with what's en vogue elsewhere on the social internet: trust and reputation. "[The new project] has to do with increasing the sense of identity and reputation on the site, making it easier to find your social actions and follow others. That is the main thrust of it," said Frons. "At the same time, we want to be smarter about encouraging our best commenters, our best contributors, and figuring out how to recognize them on the website.”
More, Better Comments. Whereas the TimesPeople network used to exist as a toolbar, the updated Times social network intends to "give people more of a voice" with overhaul of the commenting system. Fron wants to make comments "more visible and more enduring and figure out ways to categorize them so that they’re just more useful for people and more interesting, and stimulate even more discussion."
By the way, it seems like everybody wants to be the Pandora of something. But based on the overwhelmingly positive reception of Byliner, "the Pandora of longform fiction," that's not necessarily a bad thing.