As precarious as the New York Times’ financial situation is, we can’t say enough about the company’s willingness to invest in, and experiment with, electronic technologies.
A few months ago, we got a tour of the inventing room on top of the NYT’s shimmering HQ, and it’s as cool as the Googleplexes (with a far better view). We were also impressed with some of the electronic delivery stuff the paper is working on, as well as the folks who are working on it.
The Nieman Journalism Lab recently took a tour of the place, too, and produced a few short videos.
As impressed as we are by the NYT’s willingness to invest in this stuff, we still haven’t seen a technology that will allow it to preserve the economics of the current print-based business model. The next time we get a tour, we’ll focus on that question.
Watch video from Nieman Lab >
Excerpt from transcript of NJL’s interview with design integration editor Nick Bilton >
Nick Bilton: This is the core R&D group, and these are just some of the projects we’re working on. This is what we call the newspaper 2.0 table, and it’s looking at these next generation of reader devices and really trying to stay ahead of the curve with these devices.
There’s two things that we are doing here. One is trying to educate the company on where these devices are going, but the other thing is actually prototyping content on them. So this is an E Ink development kit that actually was broken in transit from Vegas last week. It’s a little chipped, but this was a device that we got from E Ink where we prototyped what content would look like on an E-Ink device that didn’t exist yet. And so we have the full layout with the typography and different user interactions that we can experiment with. And so this is really trying to prototype and understand where these devices are before they even exist and what our content will look like and how it will translate.
This is just some flexible e-ink. There is a big push for flexible displays and devices and where they’ll be. There’s been some breakthroughs in the past six months that will allow devices to become more flexible with the PCBs being more flexible, the chips are going to start to become more flexible over the next few years. And that’s really going to change these devices. The one question is: How do you tell someone that it’s bendable but not foldable? So.
Josh Benton: Gotta educate the customer.
Bilton: Gotta educate the customer. And then, you know, a lot of it is just trying to understand the user interaction and really trying to work with the manufacturers. We work with Sony and Kindle and all these guys. We work with this guy Rob Samuels, who is the project manager at nytimes.com for these devices, and we’re trying to work with all the device manufacturers to say, you know, this is how our content should work and how it should follow through.
Another big thing that we always explore are the netbooks. These put a whole different generation of people online, and we’ve been looking at how you tell stories on these machines. You know, some of them have foldable screens, some of the are touchscreen, they’re all different sizes, and we really have to understand how our content, the stories are told on there.
An interesting technology that is going to affect the e-book reader industry in the next year or so is the screen from the One Laptop Per Child. Mary Lou Jepsen came from One Laptop Per Child. She invented the screen, which is actually called Pixel Qi — Pixel Q-I. It’s based off the E-Ink technology and LCD, and it’s mashed together, and it creates a colour version of E-Ink that you can actually switch between this LCD with full movement to E-Ink in low-light situations and low power and things like that. So she’s going to be shipping those devices, the screens in November or so which means that we’ll probably start seeing them in the market place in the next year or year and a half, which should be really interesting.
We talk a bit about making the paper more interactive and adding functionality. This is just a tikitag RFID chip, and so here is an ad for Chanel. So if I could put this on my computer, it will go off and get the appropriate ad that goes along with that. So it automatically knows because it’s RFID, it’s connected that it’s Chanel ad that goes along with this experience.
So it’s just really trying to explore and understand where RFIDs — there’s this company in Boston that’s starting to explore printing RFID in paper at a penny to five cents a piece, which could really open up different areas for advertising.
As far as working with reporters, these are different GPS devices that we’ve been playing around with. We’ve given some to some reporters, and it actually automatically geocodes where they are, and whenever the time stamp of the story is uploaded. It then cross-correlates it and says, this is where this story or this photo has been filed from, or this photo, and it automatically puts it on the map. And it’s a whole different method of story-telling that nobody is really required to get involved with. It does it automatically. So we did this with the Frugal traveller and a couple of other reporters, and it’s been pretty interesting to see that happen.
Another application, going back to these news reader devices is, I mean, we’re looking at touchscreen constantly. [Dialog box appears on screen.] Thank you, Windows. [Laughter] This is the International Herald Tribune Reader that we’ve been working on with Adobe, and it’s built on Adobe AIR. And one of the really interesting features of it is that it can reformat and re-lay itself out accordingly depending on what size display it’s in. So if I’m on a screen this big, it will format and lay itself out. If I’m on a screen the size of one of those little notebooks it will, it’ll re-lay itself out that way. It does the same thing on the article level if I want to resize the font, I can go smaller and it reformats itself and fits in that thing.
You’ve got the crossword that you can do. It’s got all the features from the web and even more sit-back experiences — like we have the news in video and the news in pictures that can become full screen. I can navigate through this way. And then another interesting feature is this browse feature where it sits back and it says, let me navigate the content just by flicking through, and I can go from section to section and article to article, and then just jump right in. So it’s a really interesting visual way of navigating this content.