All modern media companies are really software companies. It’s simple necessity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Facebook or The Washington Post; the production and display of so much information in so many different media requires serious digital chops. Even if you’re leveraging tools developed elsewhere, someone has to put it all together. You can be good or bad at this, but you can’t avoid it.
The New York Times is no exception; although people at the top sometimes feign analog crankiness, some of the best developers in the world work at 620 8th Avenue. Now they have their own digital shingle: beta620 serves — as the NYT’s Joe Fiore writes — as “a new home for experimental projects from Times developers — and a place for anyone to suggest and collaborate on new ideas and products.”
For years, the NYT’s systems and technology team has had a blog, Open, where they’ve shared data and coding projects with the public. But Open primarily targeted other developers, particularly those using the NYT’s data APIs to build their own tools. Beta620 is aimed at nytimes.com’s broader readership. It’s a chance to test how new prototypes work, generate community input, figure out how they can best add value to the company, and build and iterate on the fly.
Still, because it’s sandboxed from the main site, or perhaps because its core user base skews towards geeky early adopters like you and me, beta620 is refreshingly frank about what it’s setting out to do. Here’s Bobby Roe, one of the developer of the new HTML5 Crosswords app, spelling out what’s wrong with other digital versions of the NYT’s beloved crossword puzzle:
There’s an old, outdated Java applet with circa 1998 layout & design (720 x 515 pixels), and no opportunity for advertising. Alternately, users can download a binary puzzle file to play inside of a required downloaded Desktop executable, Litsoft’s Across Lite. The software was last updated in 2004.
Snap! But note that Roe also specifies the bottom line: advertising. The paper ...