Members who opt in to TimesPeople can make their comments, recommendations, reviews and ratings visible to other users and view the activities of other members. Once a user signs up, the TimesPeople toolbar appears at the top of every NYTimes.com page.
TimesPeople has two components: the toolbar that summarizes the activities of people in the member’s network and allows members to easily access their personal settings, and TimesPeople pages, which display a wider array of the activities of the members and their social network.
Users can import Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo Mail contacts into TimesPeople. They also can use a TimesPeople application to sync their NYTimes.com updates to their Facebook news feed.
“We want to provide an option for engaged New York Times readers to share their actions with others,” said Vivian Schiller, senior VP-general manager of NYTimes.com. “We’re not trying to be the exclusive provider; we want them to be able to use this tool in other places [where] they interact with their network.”
She added, “What you see right now is just the beginning. We are using the dynamic nature of the Web to test and learn in real time. We will continue to iterate TimesPeople in response to what the audience tells us and what’s on our roadmap to accomplish.”
Cisco Systems is sponsoring the TimesPeople launch. “The business model for monetizing social media is not fully formed, to say the least,” Schiller said. “At this point, our competitive advantage is our brand and our audience, which is why we’re able to attract a sponsor like Cisco for this beta.”
From a bigger-picture perspective, TimesPeople is a continuation of the “opening up” of NYTimes.com that started last September when the paid subscription walls around TimesSelect came down after two years and all NYTimes.com content became free to all, Schiller said.
“Our plans are to go well beyond TimesPeople as we open up the digital New York Times,” she said. “In order to scale and grow the dissemination of New York Times reporting, we need to involve our audience.”
“We have incredibly smart, engaged, thoughtful readers, and many of them are experts in their own right in certain topics,” she added. “We want to harness the power and passion of those readers on the NYTimes site. We believe in engaging deeply with our audience and the developer community, which will incrementally increase our capabilities.”
In the year following the scrapping of the TimesSelect paid-subscription model, NYTimes.com’s unique visitor count increased 53%, from 13.0 million unique visitors in the U.S. in August 2007 to 19.9 million in August 2008.
“I don’t want to attribute the increase only to opening up TimesSelect,” Schiller said. “It’s a combination of opening up our columnists and our archives for free, innovation in many areas, new blogs and interactive graphics, and many things you may not notice. For example, we’ve lightened the pages so that they load faster. Finally, we’ve been in a very heavy news cycle. With the financial crisis, our top five page view days ever were within the past two weeks.”