November 8, 2008

New York Times Reader - success & review

Original Post from June 19th 2007

Install and Set-up
Eventually I was able to get the New York Times reader software to work.
They have (for me) a confusing / troublesome sign-up process that confuses Member ID, Name and e-mail and also seems to fail occasionally.
I can’t get it to work thru firewall/proxies.
After registry, you need to also “activate” your 30-day free-trial on the web using the “green button”, which was not obvious.
Initially I couldn’t see any Help link or menu and no README was shown on install.

After starting, it seems a few minor bugs remain with dialogs remaining open and unable to close them, and I had at least one hang. This seemed worse on first usage, and improved after a PC restart.

I was concerned that first download would be huge with the last 7 days included, but no as only the current day's edition is downloaded initially.
Each day in the previous seven day period is downloaded on demand when you request to read it, causing a slight delay to start reading it. This delay is mitigated by the fact articles within a day’s edition are downloaded incrementally - so you can start reading before all articles for a day are downloaded.

Daily edition adapted nicely to the wide-screen on my laptop, filling it neatly.

There is no page scrolling, or scroll bars. Each newspaper section is laid out on one screen no matter the window size. It seems that articles have a priority order with more space assigned to the higher priority ones, then less and less until the latter ones are only headlines. Thus a section of articles is squeezed into the available space. It is possible to change the font sizes for readability and the articles are scaled-back in order to fit on the screen.

Articles are highlighted with a grey area when mouse-over to show their extent. Clicking on the headline/article summary takes you to the full article, with “good-res” photos, etc. Some longer articles take up more than one page (screen) and so there is a “Next page” button to move to subsequent screens. Still no scrolling. Works with keyboard cursor keys to navigate pages too.

Read articles are shown with their headlines in a grey color.
There are buttons for “Back to section Index”, etc.

I notice that some articles get reused across sections (e.g. in Science section AND Technology section) and across days, mixing in with new articles. Thus sections always appear neatly full. Not sure if this is only done with unread articles or with all articles.

Overall they have put quite a lot of attention to detail and the “page layout” in particular, in order to avoid scrolling and filling the spread aesthetically with articles of most interest.

The edition (if you are connected) can update and change while you are reading it.

They have created a “News in Pictures” function that is a slide-show of the major news articles.

Some adverts have Flash style animation. This didn’t distract me as much as I had expected, I guess due to being used to flashing banner ads and such-like in a web browser.

The natural comparison (without having stopped to think about it), when reading on my computer on an upright LCD screen, was the web browser.

There is a Windows System Tray icon for synchronization in background. It only appears when the reader is open (which seems a bit incongruous) and goes away when the reader is closed.

In the Windows Start Menu you will get a New York Times group with a menu entry for the reader and an “Empty Cache” entry. Initially I thought this was the cache of past days articles and it started empty. It turns out this is in fact a command to empty the cache. It is a DOS batch file and gets started in a DOS window – strange.

Content drives my reading time and frequency and the very US centric news (and too much baseball! J) lost my attention after a while.

If you are American, or live in the US, and hence have a strong interest in the content, or like the New York Times and want a PC based news reader then this is a pretty good option for you and the best I have come across in terms of layout and readability (newspaper like, not a string of RSS headlines) and navigation.

Circulation reporting of e-editions
In the US (and in other countries too) there is an association that regulates newspaper circulations and how their statistics are gathered and reported, mainly for advertising purposes. It turns out that for an electronic edition to qualify in your circulation numbers you need to ostensibly show the same content and same layout as the printed edition.

This explains a lot of the attempts at on-line newspaper to reproduce the printed layout and is an example of regulations driving design when arguably the layout, content, navigation and other features should be more driven by user needs/preferences and technology capability than by reproducing print in another medium. But advertising dollars is what moves this industry!

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