A New Way To Customize Your Times

The New York Times digital team recently launched Custom Times Feeds, an online tool that allows users to create their own news feeds of Times articles based on the people, places and topics they care about.

For instance: If a Times reader wants to read every article on, say, CBS and David Letterman, they could scroll through a bunch of irrelevant search results, or click around on the NYTimes.com’s business section, Media Decoder blog and arts section to find what they want. Or they can create a custom RSS feed of articles that include the Letterman and NBC keywords, then subscribe to it in their reader of choice.

Tom Jackson, the New York Times developer who came up with the idea for the Custom Times Feed, called it “a simple, customizable and familiar way to get news and information about almost anything you can think of.”

“All New York Times articles are assigned keywords by real, live people, rather than by computers and search algorithms,” he wrote in a blog post. “And that means all the articles included in a custom feed are truly relevant to the topic specified.”

Marc Frons, chief technology officer of digital operations at the Times, told the Observer by phone that the prototype came from an internal technology contest that the paper holds every six months or so. It’s open to anybody who works at the Times, although it’s usually  developers and designers who join in. The competition is judged by a panel of six or seven Times people–including Mr. Frons, a few senior members of his digital operations team, and folks from the newsroom, advertising and business departments. Contestants are usually encouraged to work on different ideas for each contest, like mobile technology or encouraging community.

“Whatever wins, we decide to put up on the site in some way shape or form,” Mr. Frons said. “It encourages innovation from the staff from the bottom, up.”

Mr. Jackson, who specializes in flash design for the digital team, won the competition about six months ago, Mr. Frons said. It has taken him a while to get the prototype ready for publication on NYTimes.com and go through approval processes in the design and technology departments, he explained.

Times Wire, a continuous, chronological stream of NYTimes.com content; Article Skimmer, a boxy, visual display of articles; and Times Widgets were winners in past contests, which have been going on for about two years, Mr. Frons said.

“The next thing we’re going to try to work on is customization rather than personalization,” Mr. Frons said. That means figuring out what readers have already read or are already interested in and creating features and pages for them automatically, he explained. The goal is to keep readers exploring NYTimes.com by giving them exactly what they want, but also what they might be interested in reading as well.

The Observer asked about the Timesjob openings for 16 new developers, software engineers and digital designers.

“There’s not much more to say about it,” he said. “We’re still hiring. The company is still investing in digital and really sees it as its future.”

A New Way To Customize Your Times