NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The New York Times is building a public beta testing site where it will experiment with new ideas and applications before deciding whether they deserve to go live on NYTimes.com. The Times expects to introduce the site, to be called Beta620, in July or August. The "620" refers to the paper's street address on Eighth Avenue in New York.
"Our hope is that we will be able to bring new ideas from concept to prototype to launch much faster with a public beta site than we could using NYTimes.com alone -- and that we may do so without the risk of disrupting NYTimes.com or conflicting with other development projects," Marc Frons, chief technology officer for digital operations at The Times, said in a memo to staff today.
Some projects may also wind up becoming standalone products, Mr. Frons said, while those that don't catch on with readers or advertisers will be abandoned.
The Times has introduced plenty of changes and products to its site over the years, but it's a prominent piece of real estate to do much experimenting. NYTimes.com is the country's largest newspaper web site, with 32.5 million unique visitors in May, according to ComScore.
And not every new idea works. The Times Extra function introduced in December 2008, for example, gave readers the option to see the New York Times home page automatically populated with links to related coverage from competing news sources and blogs. The idea was to enhance the site's role as a one-stop shop for news by aggregating other outlets' reports, but it turned out that readers weren't interested in using the site that way. Times Extra was discontinued last December.
The Times is happy so far, on the other hand, with the recently introduced boxes that slide out to suggest new articles when readers approach the end of whatever they're reading. If visitors scroll to the bottom of a report about the NBA Finals, for example, a box darts from the right side of the screen labeled "More in Sports" and offering a link to an article on vuvuzelas at the World Cup. Those boxes resulted from internal contests the company calls "technology challenges."
"That was a tech challenge winner," said Denise Warren, senior VP-chief advertising officer at The New York Times Media Group. "We built it out and it's performing really well."