ny times “article skimmer” harkens back to sunday paper browsing

New York Times Article SkimmerBack in the day when I lived in an urban community with a weekend newspaper edition, Sunday morning was a treat. I’d get up, shake off a hangover, prepare a greasy plate of eggs and assorted other fridge detritus, then sit down at the table for a marathon read that always started with a skim.

By “skim,” I mean I’d perform a cursory scan of pretty much the entire weekend edition and make mental notes of the stories I actually wanted to read in full. Then I’d go back and start all over, diving into each story one after another. Alas, when I moved north, that essential quality of the urban Sunday morning was left behind. 

This is probably why I like RSS (Really Simple Syndication) so much. RSS is a great way to scan news by reviewing headlines and summaries without the muss and fuss of a full-on web site GUI. I use the tab feature in my browser to prepare each article for deeper consumption: if a summary catches my interest, I command-click it and the full story is downloaded to a new browser tab in the background.

I use Google Reader for my RSS-consumption, but the endless scrolling list is monotonous, and it lacks any sort of visual appeal. Indeed, as with so much of the Google experience, it is a drab, utilitarian affair.

So I was pretty stoked to discover the New York Times new “article skimmer” interface. It’s modelled after the Sunday morning ritual that urbanites everywhere enjoy and, as a digital environment, it improves on the Google Reader eterna-scroll.

The grid layout is pleasant, and the presence of thumbnail images refreshing. There is a useful set of keyboard commands for efficient navigation, and the traditional section-based (i.e. topical) structure enables a real feeling of that weekend newspaper tradition.

In a way, it’s really just RSS laid out pretty. But that’s okay. While RSS is a great way to consume news and information quickly and easily, the experience is modeless. The New York Times’ article skimmer preserves the efficiency of RSS, but combines it with an enjoyable and memorable experience. Here’s hoping Google catches on.