The New York Times has introduced its long-delayed Beta620, a public beta testing site where web surfers can experiment with new products that could eventually take root on NYTimes.com.
The site went live on Sunday with seven projects for consumers to try and comment on:
- The Buzz, which shows how much traction Times articles are getting on social media
- Times Companion, which lets you summon information on topics in the article you're reading without taking you away from the page
- TimesInstant, a search page that shows results as you type
- Smart Search Bar, which sorts results and displays them without taking you away from the page you're on
- NYTimes Crossword Web App, an HTML 5 version of the puzzle's aging digital versions
- Longitude, which plots the day's Times articles on an interactive Google map
- Community Hub, a dashboard featuring stats on your comment history, a feed of comments on Times articles and, soon, Facebook friends' comments
"It's a place that gives a permanent home to the tradition of innovation," said Denise Warren, senior VP and chief advertising officer at the New York Times Media Group as well as general manager at NYTimes.com. "And it invites our community in to help us formulate an opinion about the innovation and the new products."
Although the projects on Beta620 bear on the editorial side so far, subsequent offerings could include potential new ad units and executions, Ms. Warren said. The "620" refers to the Times' street address on Eighth Avenue in New York.
The Times originally expected to make Beta620 live last summer, but got derailed by the intensive effort to develop an online pay scheme. The company also wanted to make sure its site for beta projects would look a little more polished than, well, a beta.
"We had a little thing called the digital subscription model that obviously wasn't so little and really took a lot of energy and resources, not just from developers and engineers but our management team," Ms. Warren said. "That was probably the main reason why this was delayed. The other thing was we wanted to get this right."
The Times' public beta site has come along just a few weeks after Google said it would wind down its own Google Labs page, which showcases a very wide range of ideas, in an effort to prioritize core products and put "more wood behind fewer arrows."
"While we've learned a huge amount by launching very early prototypes in Labs," Google said in a blog post, "we believe that greater focus is crucial if we're to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead."
The Times believes its public beta site is perhaps different because the projects being tried there bear on its core digital product, The New York Times Online.