The NY Times website used to be the perfect example of what not to do with a newspaper website – put up a pay-wall to keep most users out. It’s hard to think of something more annoying than that. It goes against the basic nature of the Internet and the basic expectations of most users. Also, their website was just an electronic version of the print newspaper, so it didn’t even offer anything particularly compelling in order to get people to pay.
But they’ve changed. NY Times’ web developers attended OSCON this year. They’ve opened up the website and put their focus on making their website a destination, on attracting users by making the website useful rather than forcing users to pay for content that they can get elsewhere for free. They’ve launched blogs and podcasts and RSS feeds and all those other useful sorts of things.
I came across the Republic YouTube Debate on their website (via Greg Wilson) which was a great sign of that. Why wouldn’t somebody just watch this on YouTube? Well, the NY Times website offers a transcript of the video that scrolls along beside it and they offer bookmarks so that you can jump to a specific section of the 111 minute-long debate. Also, there’s a transcript analyzer which allows you to view who spoke when and for how long. These are the types of things that attract visitors to your website.
(When I mentioned this to my dad, he directed my attention toward the University of Toronto’s ePresence project – an open source webcasting project that allows you to do more with video, something along these lines.)