New York Times Dashboards

David Weinberger writes:

…starting in April, is going to publish thousands of topic pages, each aggregating the content from the 10 million articles in its archive, going back to 1851, including graphics and multimedia resources. [NOTE: They are not opening their archive. The content will likely be descriptions created for the Times Index; you’ll still have to pay to see articles in the archive.] Topics that get their own page might include Boston, Terrorism, Cloning, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Condoleeza Rice. News stories will link to these topic pages. And the Times must hope these pages, with their big fat permanent addresses, may start rising in Google’s rankings.

I think this may bring about two crises (“crisis” in the old sense of crossroads):

First, if the topic pages don’t give away enough information, if they have too many enticing links that make us pay $2.95 to retrieve the article, they will position The Times as a hoarder rather than as an authority; initially, they are thinking about publishing the summaries written for The Times Index, not the archived articles themselves.* It’s crucial to our trust in newspapers that we feel they are on our side, working to make us all better informed; it will be a sad day for the mainstream media when we lose that sense.

Second, the first comparison we’re all going to make is to the Wikipedia page on the same topic. My guess is that, while nothing can duplicate The Times’ 150 years of cultural artifacts if they’re made freely available*, we’re going to find the Wikipedia page more useful, more current, more neutral, and more linked into the Web. If we don’t, we’ll edit the Wikipedia page until it’s better. And then we’ll link it to the topic page. In this head-on comparison between what the best of the closed systems can do with what the newest of the open systems comes up with, you’ll hear the groan of the hawser as the ship of trust changes berths.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.