I have been using the new Times website for the last week, in an effort to understand whether this new arrangement works for me and others, and what the real sticking points or benefits are.
Yes, it’s a lovely design, there are some great interactive elements, and I’ve been emailed with some extra-special Times+ membership discounts. And of course the journalism is of a high quality. One of my favourite aspects is the quality of comments that is imposed by making it pay-to-play and restricting anonymous responses. The live chats with journalists and experts also sound promising. But there are some significant behavioural issues that make paying for this difficult for me.
- I actually have to go there. My normal web browsing leads me across news articles during the course of a day – usually by search or a recommendation on Twitter. It was very odd to actually have to choose to go to a news site to get news.
- It logs me out every while. So not only do I have to choose to go to the Times rather than following links, when I go there, I ALWAYS have to log in again. There is not another web service I use (apart from my online bank) that requires me to do this, and it completely destroys the user experience. What should be a quick process of checking some news becomes laborious. [Update: this has now been fixed ]
- Why on earth would I want 2 sites (The Times and the Sunday Times) from the same publisher with different but unlinked content about many of the same topics? See Malcolm Coles‘ great post for a fuller review of this.
- Everything, or pretty much everything has been cross-published on timesonline.co.uk for free (no paywall). So this pretty much removes any reason to go to the paid site right now. I will wait to see if my opinion changes when there is no free Times.
The Times are trying to change engrained user behaviour. I value being able to follow links to news stories from friends who suggest them. I value sharing articles with the people I know will like them. I value the ease of fragmented content consumption throughout the day – so I don’t have to make a decision to sit down and read the news. I value my time not being wasted with constant login prompts. And, last but not least, I value the extra latte I can buy every week with the money I save from ceasing my subscription. Hey, I might even use that 15 minutes in the coffee shop to have a non-paywall-controlled discussion with a friend about the latest political shenanigans.
The Times have a built a really nice membership club around news. Really nice. The commentary and community experience they present is great. But for me right now, I want news, not a membership club (although that might well change). The Times seem to be focusing on their traditional audience with this launch, and I’m afraid for them that this audience will continue to be eroded.
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