Review of the New York Times Reader

Review of the New York Times Reader

Summary: I review the New York Times Reader, one of the first killer-apps for Windows Presentation Foundation.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Browser
9

This is a long time coming, partly because I've been actually using the product and I wanted to do it justice by sitting down and really exploring it. After doing so, I think it's one of the best Rich Internet Applications out there - bar none. Now whether or not that means that people are going to use it remains to be seen. One of the reasons I find this application so compelling is that because from a technology standpoint, it wears the RIA badge proudly. If there was a web-only version that provided the same level of richness and the complimented the offline version, I'd be happier, but I think this is a great litmus test for the entire Rich Internet Application space and it has all the pieces to succeed:

  • Strong brand
  • Compelling content
  • Online content that syncs and can be taken offline
  • Interactive, intuitive user interface

As I wrote before, reading a newspaper is something that can be very personal to people. Replacing it, or even "improving" on it is a risky thing. I realize that the NYT Reader isn't going to supplant the actual paper, but the newspaper is such a basic thing with some fond emotions, that people will be skeptical about an e version. With that said, lets dive in.


Background

If you aren't familiar with the New York Times Reader, it is a collaboration project between Microsoft and the New York Times which uses Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation to bring New York Times content to your desktop as a standalone application. After installing the reader, you sign in with your nytimes.com credentials and you have access to the stories of the day. You can leave the reader running in the background and it will sync up with the New York Times website and download their articles so you can take it with you when you're offline. It provides the rich experience of a desktop app while being powered by entirely web based content that you can then take with you.

Initial Reactions

The NYT Reader really does manage to keep the "look and feel" of a newspaper while running on a computer. Microsoft has made readability and usability the focus, and the subtle tweaks that the NYT reader have make a difference. It's very easy to change the font size and the viewer scales accordingly. The fonts used are exceptional from a readability standpoint and the interface moves intuitively as you browse through sections. The transitions between sections mean that you never have a "page flash" like you would on the nytimes.com website, and as a result, the application flows just like a newspaper would.


The New York Times reader is also laid out just like a regular newspaper. Clicking on one of the sections brings you to the front page, with the headlines and bylines sorted in columns. Pictures are always a focal point of the section page, which keeps to the form of the newspaper's traditional front pages.

Bringing The Paper to the PC

Just like articles on nytimes.com, you can save, print and email directly from the reader. When you saved it, it stores as .trc file, or New York Times Annotated Article. One of the cool things about the New York Times Reader is that it lets you interact with the article to a certain degree. The "note" functionality allows you to select parts of the text and type in notes or use the "ink note" to put your own particular version of scribble on the article. You can then email or save those annotations and send them to friends and family. My father in law usually sends me interesting articles from the Times and I know he would love a way to add his own thoughts to specific parts of the articles - this makes that easy to do.

Another thing I think the reader does very well are the advertisements. They are laid out unobtrusively on the page, and as you scale the font size, the advertisements either leave the page entirely, or scale to fit the article. For instance you may be reading an article that has a small, rectangular advertisement in a box on the right hand side, but when you scale the fonts up, you will see a different, banner-sized advertisement at the bottom of the page. It allows the reader to change the advertising on the fly and in a way that fits logically with the article. As a result, the advertising feels like it fits and isn't obnoxious. Implementing good advertising is going to be key to Rich Internet Applications and I like the way the Times does it.


Click for larger version

My favorite feature, bar-none, is the search. Searching for an article in the regular New York Times is tedious and hit or miss. The Reader takes search one step further by using keywords to relate certain displaying them as a cloud diagram. For instance, if I search for 'Microsoft' It shows me a couple of articles on Microsoft that appear in the New York Times. With the reader, I can drill down and see other topics that article covers. For instance, this article, an interview with Steve Ballmer about Vista, had the keywords 'Microsoft Corp', 'Ballmer, Steven A', 'Computer Software' and 'Computers and the Internet'. Clicking on 'Computer Software' brings up all of the articles which talk about computer software. It's a great tool for relating articles within the paper to each other as well as helping to sort through what you're looking for. It's a shining example of how a rich experience can enhance usability and make the information we are looking for easier to find.

Multimedia


One area where I think the reader falls short is in its presentation of multimedia. There is an adequate picture viewer, which has a zoom and brings the photo to the front, but there are no sound clips and no video for any of the articles. What makes this doubly disappointing is that the New York Times website has video. I think one problem is that nytimes.com uses Flash Video to present their media and putting that into the reader would have been a tough sell from a business standpoint. It is a glaring weakness in an otherwise good product.

Conclusion

I am very impressed with the New York Times Reader. I've heard some people say that it misses the mark but when you look at the extra functionality it brings when compared to the website - a more interactive experience, better search, the note and annotation aspect, as well as the ability to take the content with you offline, I think it's a compelling offering and an excellent example of an RIA built in Windows Presentation Foundation.

I also think this is only the beginning of Rich Internet Applications and a richer reading experience. We've seen eBooks slowly make their mark and I think RIAs will have a huge impact on that space. Being able to sync content online and bring with you makes a subscription model more valuable to the end users. Imagine the times reader on a Windows mobile device that you can take with you and read on the subway. We're going to see a lot more here as content providers see the benefits provided by giving users freedom over their content. It opens up new and interesting advertising models as well as building a strong brand.

Topic: Browser

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

9 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Why?

    I still don't understand the appeal to this. Why bother to download and install this app when you can simply use a browser at nytimes.com? Much quicker and the app doesn't have to be installed on your PC. Your just reading text of a newspaper anyway. No need for a fancy application.

    I really do not beleive this is the right use of RIA technology and if this is the example, adoption will be even slower to places where RIAs could actually help solve a problem.
    jb1234
    • RE: Why?

      I'll give you the example of why I like it so much, and I probably should have made it more obvious in the post. Every morning I leave my laptop to sync with the New York Times (using the Reader). Then I take my laptop with me on the bus to work, and I have full access to all of the Times articles as well as full search functionality.

      If you are constantly connected to the internet, then maybe this application isn't for you. But we often read newspapers in places where we aren't connected to the web, and this application helps bridge that gap. The value adds that it brings (the robust search, the note taking, saving content) are things you can't do with a regular newspaper.

      That's why I think it's a great example of an RIA.
      ryanstewart
      • makes sense

        Well, that makes sense, but it still seems like something only 1% of the population will actually do. Riding the metro in DC you almost never see anyone whip out there laptop to read the paper.
        jb1234
      • makes sense

        Well, that makes sense, but it still seems like something only 1% of the population will actually do. Riding the metro in DC you never see anyone whip out there laptop to read the paper (at least I've never seen it).
        jb1234
        • RE: makes sense

          I may be the only geek big enough to pull the laptop out on a bus, but what about airplanes? What about tablet PCs (A small market, but this is still a great use case).

          There are advantages to a digitized version that you can take with you offline. That's one of the reasons I was bummed there wasn't more multimedia support - it would have made the example even better.

          I love web apps, I think they're great, but I also think a majority of people need some way to take their data with them when they're offline - this is one way RIAs can provide a huge amount of value - bringing web apps offline. The NYT Reader does a great job of this.

          Thanks for leaving the comments jb.
          ryanstewart
  • What makes u think

    That this one will be successfull, we've had numerous examples dating back to the late 90's where we were able to download news to the laptop, but it never really his the masses.
    Even when it has been downloaded to palm or ms mobile offices it never really hit the market.

    I think we will have to wait till the really lightweight eReaders are available.
    tombalablomba
    • RE: What makes u think

      What was different between now and the solutions from the late 90's? The technology then was terrible, I remember trying to sync news with my PDA using AvantGo and it was a terrible experience. You were better off reading the paper.

      The NYT Reader is a better experience and it adds value. Being able to take notes, save them, and then send them to colleagues. It's Web 2.0 meets the newspaper, which is one of the reasons I think it's better than solutions from the 90s.
      ryanstewart
      • Re:

        I think i will wait till the devices are ready. Though i'm used to reading documents etc. of my laptop i prefer an instant on device for reading stuff like this. I guess we will just have to wait till epaper fulfills it's promise. (they're testing one in belgium http://e-paper.i-merge.net/ but unfortunately in Dutch) These devices are lighter and readable in the sun which is a big + above my laptop(s).
        But my feeling is that even these first ereaders just lack some of the stuff that would make me want to buy it. (unless of course my newspaper is offering me one).
        tombalablomba
  • NYT Reader

    Responding to Ryan Stewart's very positive review of the New York Times Reader.

    In my opinion, Ryan?s enthusiasm is a bit over the top. The NYT Reader is an okay application but not great. Specifically:

    The Reader is an improved version of nyt.com but is definitely not a substitute for the traditional newspaper. To paraphrase Stewart, tastes vary but the Reader absolutely does not have the look and feel of a traditional newspaper. You may like this if you prefer getting your news on the web but paper newspaper readers will find the Reader to be a very different experience.

    The layout is similar to nyt.com with headlines and brief summaries of articles provided. Click on an article and the full text appears. To give more of a newspaper feel, the article appears in column format but I find it hard to see why that is an improvement. As with nyt.com, you need to click to bring up the article continuation pages. The one significant improvement over nyt.com is that page changes are quick because content is stored on your computer so there is no need for the Reader to make a content call back to the server. The trade off, of course, is that the Reader is consuming memory on your computer. That plus the Reader's use of .net means this application has a big footprint. There are also significant implementation short falls. Specifically:

    Response Time:
    Overall, the slow response time of the NYT Reader is annoying and will likely put off many users.
    ? Re-start the NYT Reader and it takes about a minute for the ?Home Page? to load but it takes a full 11 minutes for the content to completely update. In the meantime, you see yesterday?s content.
    ? Minimize the Reader and it takes about a minute to restore the application. Perhaps it will run faster with Vista.
    ? Page changes were sometimes instant but in other cases took a while.

    Content
    I compared the content to the paper newspaper and it was far from complete. Readers of nyt.com may find this acceptable but newspaper readers will definitely be disappointed.
    ? Many articles were missing.
    ? Secondary content such as sports box scores and summary lists such as ?Arts Briefly? were missing.
    ? Graphs and other visuals were often missing.
    ? Photos took multiple clicks to see
    ? The content was a mix of current news and a mix-match of recycled articles from previous days which I find very annoying.

    Peripheral functions
    I tried out the email function which causes an email message from your email client to appear with the contents pasted in. EXCEPT, only the first paragraph was pasted.

    In sum, a nice try (C+) but far from ready for show time. Users of NYT.com will find the reader to be familiar and perhaps an improvement but readers of the traditional newspaper will definitely find the Reader disappointing.
    Oldman47