Browsing the News

I get nearly all of my news online and have since the web really came alive for me about 15 years ago. I remember a feeling of power being able to not wait for the Weather on the 8’s or for scores to games. The web was the place where traditional news went to die for me. I think lots of people feel that way now.

Recently traditional newspapers in particular have felt the pain associated with not just the arrival of the web, but the masses’ emerging awareness of its amazing capabilities. With that said, I find it mildly amusing and very disturbing that the news industry did a lot to set itself up to have to deal with the reality of a sea of free and endlessly available content. Most of it produced by them.

One of the things I’ve never been able to understand really has nothing to do with the failing financial models. Why is it for all the great things we get from online news that newspapers have insisted on making their websites “look” like physical newspapers? Why must the first iteration of anything mimic the existing model? I’m not sure if they realize it or not but a web browser doesn’t support what a physical paper has to offer. Why not skip that same old and take advantage of the way the modern web can manage complex interfaces?

I haven’t seen much innovation in the news space online until recently.

My favorite online newspaper is the New York Times for lots of reasons. The first is their content — it works for me on so many levels. But at the end of the day one of the things I’ve fallen in love with lately is how much they are working to innovate online. I wrote a few months ago about Times People and I still can’t figure out why more people aren’t pointing to this little innovation as a glimpse into the the future of what we should see as the course management system in coming years. The ability to have a controllable social network that works together to build an active reading list so easily on the fly is quite interesting. Imagine that same interface as the LMS/CMS — allowing a faculty member or student to submit any evidence into the commons of the course. But as cool as it is, the Times People isn’t the only innovation that has me praising the spirit at the Times.

They recently introduced a new interface for browsing the paper in a really compelling way. It is yet another example of smart newspaper people rethinking the web as a platform to interact and engage with the news — something the rest of the industry needs to figure out if they are going to stay viable. The Times calls it the Article Skimmer and it is a really nice way to move around a paper. It actually feels a lot more like spreading a paper out and browsing the titles and picking what to read. I found a blog post from the NYT web team about the new view really interesting and it got me thinking about how different the web is than a giant piece of paper. Now, how it can integrate advertising in a compelling way will dictate its success as an interface over the long haul.

Article Skimmer

Article Skimmer

I think as we watch what happens in such a traditional place we need to be watching where they are going. When combine the above examples with the Time’s open APIs and free content the old school is looking a lot like what the new school should be all about. Shouldn’t we be thinking about how these kinds of interfaces should be built into the future of our learning management systems? Why do our LMS/CMS environments insist on living on the same old metaphors since they emerged? What does the open web teach us about how our environments need to support teaching and learning in a new era? Can we be as bold as the NYT?

9 thoughts on “Browsing the News

  1. I love the ad skimmer too! To me, it represents a fusion of old and new school newspaper reading habits.
    One popular newspaper database we have here at the library, PressDisplay (, has been adding cool social features too lately like commenting, rating, translation of articles into 10 different languages, ability to listen to the articles, share shortcuts for blogging/posting/etc. Their layout does mimic the print, but I can definitely see a hybrid model evolving. Maybe not as bold as the Times, but it’s nice to see the industry experimenting . I can’t wait to see what happens next!

  2. Nice find and perspective there, Mr Everyday Blogger. The NYT has come a long way from requiring accounts and logins to see an article, and like you, I am excited they are experimenting with the format. The Skimmer is nifty in terms of interface; appears to be loading content via AJAX, and the keyboard shortcuts are clever.

    In some regards it is RSS-like, and points to the benefit of structuring data or clever database yanking. It has a similar format also to their iPhone app.

    I am hopeful the Sunday funnies are not nastily hidden inside auto parts and discount furniture inserts like the local Arizona papers manage to do.

  3. Thanks for posting again about Times People – I’ve finally gone over and signed up! I think the interface is quite lovely and intuitive. I’d love to see our educational spaces set up this way. We have a lot of cues to take from the innovators out there.

  4. @ Alan Levine The technological innovation is really interesting, but I am trying to focus some attention on how simple tools like the ones being introduced by the Times could play in our space. We need new models to help us think about our challenges in a different way. I’ve been impressed with what I’m seeing there.

  5. I absolutely agree that we should be thinking this way when thinking about LMSs or CMSs, but I must admit that I am having trouble visualizing it from a pragmatic point of view. I think that it’s going to take a huge paradigm shift in the foundations of our current education system to get there, but I am okay with that. I really hope that we can be bold and even brave enough to talk about it and explore it as a community to see what happens.

    My fear is that those old metaphors of what defines a course and a teacher/professor will get in the way of any real new thinking about how to host and organize the content and resources as LMSs and CMSs do. If we can move away from looking at a LMS/CMS as an big electronic bookshelf (when students are working on English they pull that book down and work on it and then put it back and take down a history book and work on that and so on), we might have a chance to see a NYT-type LMS or CMS some day. If you stop and think about it, people aren’t made that way, we don’t compartmentalize our lives, but both K-12 and higher ed instruction are designed that way. I’ve always been a big believer in interdisciplinary education and the value that it brings by contextualing learning for the learner to build their own meaning. (I am a constructivist by nature if you haven’t guessed.) The reason we don’t do that as far as I can tell is that it’s difficult, but having an LMS or CMS do what the NYT has done, could make it easier by leaps and bounds. As I mentioned, most of us don’t compartmentalize our lives, especially now with the high level of connectedness that we discussed last week, why should we be forced to compartmentalize our learning?

  6. @ April Couldn’t agree more. I think the one thing we’ve neglected to accept is that we live in a hypertext driven information world. We no longer work in one book at a time … when I was in class tonight I had a dozen tabs open in my browser as I worked to solve problems — each one was taking me to a different “physical” destination, but the overall path was the same. I could see how nice it would be if I could mark my contributions in a google doc as done, resources along the way as important, and pages that made sense to the conversation in a very simple way. The only time I stayed in one place was when I went to the Lessons tab in ANGEL.

  7. Have you seen yet? Blackboard has a site that is attempting to get nearer to this sort of vision for social learning. It has an integrated browser toolbar and allows students to contribute links to a course collection/repository of resources. has some screenshots and recorded webinars if you want to have a look. Access to search and view bookmarks is available to everyone, but you have to be a Blackboard user to contribute. It’s like a semi-peer reviewed version of delicious for use in a controlled environment, which could be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Originally an optional Blackboard plugin, it now ships pre-installed on newer versions of the product. Seems to be catching on…

  8. I had an interesting conversation with my colleague, Jim Leous, today about how we might do this within the PSU space. He is imagining an environment that looks like the Times Select app but that works to create a network around the Blogs at PSU. Really interesting stuff for us to explore. There may be a future in an interface like this for us after all!

  9. @Emily Rimland Sorry, your comment somehow got flagged as spam and I didn’t see it until just now. I’ll have to check out the PressDisplay. I just think the people in traditional news are going to need to innovate to stay relevant over the long haul.

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