New York Times Becomes More Social

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by: Matt Rhodes

The New York Times launched a beta version of TimesPeople over the weekend. It’s their first step at adding a social layer onto their site – a recommendations service and mini-social network. It’s works rather simply:

  1. Sign-in as a registered user of
  2. Find ‘friends’ in the database or by importing contacts (currently only from gmail)
  3. Recommend or share articles that you enjoy or that you think that your friends would enjoy.

It’s the beginnings of a social network and maybe even an online community, and it’s great to see the New York Times add a social layer like this, but I really hope it’s the first stage of a broader social media strategy.

The opportunities for publishers to leverage the power of social media and social networking is huge. Sharing and recommending articles is just one of the things that people might want to do with a publisher brand and is also something that might be better done elsewhere. I can share articles from any site with my friends on Facebook; I can recommend news and content on Digg. I don’t necessarily need to do this in a site that is controlled by just one publisher.

What I want to do as a publisher site is to make the most of the content my brand produces. Understand what people enjoy reading, get them to comment on it, gather data on them and build a real understanding of what they do and think. I want to combine my editorial content with the UGC created by my readers. Get them to contribute to my content and enter into debates with other readers and the authors. I want them to rate content and by this I can know which of my authors produce content that is of most interest to the readers.

There are some publishing firms doing really interesting things at the moment. I met a large B2B publishing firm at a conference recently who award bonuses to writers based on the ratings their articles get on the site. The BBC News site has been developing, organising content by theme, engaging readers with comments and exchanges and making it easy for people to take their content with them to other sites.

TimesPeople seems to be a simple social layer added over the New York Times’s main site. I’ll be interested to see how successful it is, and to see how it develops. Will people actually use this comment and recommendation tool, or will they continue to do this in other ways and through other networks? Will the social elements of the New York Times grow to include some of the more exciting things that publishing firms can do?

Publishing is about content and content is about opinion and debate. Social media and social networking allows publishing firms to provide the stimulus for debate and provide the online community where this debate can happen. It’s going to be exciting to watch as firms develop in this area and TimePeople could be a first step in this direction.

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