TimesPeople will be marked as the beginning of a key revolution in newspaper Web sites.
Not because of what it is — a pretty underwhelming social network based on recommending stories at nytimes.com — but because of the doors it’ll open to a more social experience in consuming news.
Shoving content onto existing social networks isn’t going to save the industry. Newspaper organizations need to focus on becoming the social network.
In addition to the obligatory forums and blogs, the newspaper site will be home to the mingling that’s happening on Facebook or MySpace, the dating that’s happening on Match.com, and the conversation that’s happening on Twitter. It will take the fun and utility of those other sites and infuse them with the one advantage every newspaper has: Local, local, local.
None of that is happening on TimesPeople, an effective recommendation system with few frills, but it does move us in that direction by the all-important step of introducing the reader profile. My profile just has my name, location, and a story I recommended for the sake of trying out the service.
But maybe that profile will expand and enable me to have the headlines I want, from only the categories I want, delivered to that profile page. Maybe all my activity on the site — forum postings, story comments and blog entries — will be displayed on that profile page. Maybe I’ll be able to RSVP to entertainment listings through my profile.
Maybe that profile will expand and enable me to include everything I have in my Facebook profile. Maybe that profile will enable me to declare that I’m single, and to search for other single Times readers.
Maybe that site will incorporate conversational tools, whether it’s wall postings, intra-site messages, instant messaging or microblogging.
The newspaper site will defragment the local Web space, centralizing it around the news product that we desperately need to sell. Meanwhile, it gives the readers the personalization, control and voice that they increasingly need.
When you think about what it could become in the future, TimesPeople seems pretty insignificant right now. But let’s use it as the starting point toward the radical rethinking that every newspaper site really needs.