18 6 / 2013
Owning an story can be hard on social media when you operate a subscription model. Not all of our followers or fans have access to The Times or The Sunday Times and therefore can’t access the full article when you post a link from an account like @thetimes or @thesundaytimes. This means that people often read a rewritten version of our story on another news site.
We thought about how we could change this and realised that our best weapon was our journalists, each with their own network of followers and fans. But we were asking a lot to expect them to keep track of stories breaking on social media (especially when on deadline) so we knew we needed a way of making it easy for them.
We enlisted the help of Alex Muller, a clever chap who up until recently for News International’s R&D Labs and now works over at gov.uk. We tasked him to come up with an easy way to send HTML email from company Gmail accounts inside the browser.
Alex used a copy of the Google Apps script available here which prompts the user for a recipient, a subject and gives space to input HTML email. The script authenticates against the Google Apps account you’re currently signed in with, and uses that to send the email.
He then created an HTML template to display a single tweet inside an
email, and used Twitter’s Web Intents to add links to simplify the
process for journalists and others to retweet - one click in the email,
and then one confirmation click on twitter.com to complete the action.
It’s a simple solution to the problem, and manages to sidestep some
headaches with authenticating a third-party application to send email from Gmail (which would have significantly increased the time required for the project).
The result of using ‘The retweeter’ is that our big stories reach more people. For example, The Sunday Times Insight team had a big story on lobbying in Westminster which was retweeted by 30 people, most of whom were Sunday Times staff. Twitter analytics showed us that this tweet had reach three times greater than our usual tweets.
So if you see a Times or Sunday Times journalist retweet a big story, there’s a good chance we used ‘The retweeter’ to make it easy for them to do so. We’ll continue to use it on our big stories and perhaps look at developing a similar version for other networks where we see an opportunity.
Thanks for reading.
10 6 / 2013
When the ‘internet editions’ of The Times and The Sunday Times launched, on January 1 and 7, 1996 respectively, Prince Charles and Lady Diana were still married and Blackburn Rovers were Premier League champions.
In August 1997, they became the first national newspapers to receive an audit certificate from ABC//electronic, the branch of the Audit Bureau of Circulations which audits websites.
As you can see from the screenshots below, compiled by News International’s archivist Nick Mays, The Times and The Sunday Times have come a long way on the web..
The main entry page to all the websites for News International’s online titles once a new user completed the registration form proudly notes how they have become ‘one of the Internet’s biggest content producers’ (not that there were probably many competitors at the time, mind).
As well as offering access to The Times and The Sunday Times, the website also offered a series of resources, including back issues of all the ‘internet editions’ of both titles as well as ‘Info Times’ which gathered together articles from the titles under a series of subject headings (essentially early index pages or story packages)
The Times online
The front page for May 2, 1997, reporting Labour’s landslide victory in the General Election (complete with an ominous looking advert from Yell)
Sunday Times online
The front page for August 31, 1997, reporting the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed. The news was regularly updated throughout the day through the site’s News Update facility as the tragedy unfolded.
Sunday Times Rich List
Published as a supplement in the paper since 1989, The Sunday Times began publishing the Rich List online in 1996. Lord Sainsbury topped the list that year with £3300m whilst this year’s Rich List saw Alisher Usmanov, worth £13,300m, ranked first.
The Times and the 1998 World Cup
The Times produced a special Internet site for the 1998 World Cup in France which received over 200,000 hits a day during the tournament. Unfortunately we can only assume how many of those people come to the site by searching “David Beckham petulant kick”.
Get in touch with your memories of The Times or The Sunday Times in the nineties and let us know what other websites did you visited in those glorious days of dial-up.
03 6 / 2013
As of tomorrow, there will be no new posts on Times Opinion Tumblr.
When we launched the Tumblr back in June last year, the goal was to give a flavour of what our award-winning columnists and leader writers read and think. We wanted to see if it attracted new readers to The Times and were very clear, with ourselves and our readers, that it was an experiment to see how it could work for us. It flourished in parts, but we’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t quite right for us.
So we returning to our home on thetimes.co.uk, Comment Central, where you’ll be able to continue to read our fantastic columnists and writers on a daily basis. We’ll have a new podcast up and running soon, and together with the refreshed blog, we think it will cement Times Opinion as the leading platform for comment in any British newspaper.
If you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow our list of columnists and writers and to follow @timesopinion and the #commentcentral hashtag, where we’ll put out links to new blogs (with occasional free-to-access articles for those who don’t subscribe to The Times yet).
30 5 / 2013
Critical to the evolution of digital products and services are effective channels for feedback and communication between customers and the teams who develop them. In their absence, products frequently evolve in ways that serve the interests of the business instead of the needs of the customer.
For The Times and Sunday Times, this communication currently occurs in a variety of channels: direct contact with the Customer Services team, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, social media such as Twitter, comments on the Appstore and Playstore and responses to occasional surveys sent out by the Customer Team. This feedback is a vital but fragmented source of insight. To improve the quality of our response we have worked with eDigital Research to develop an online forum currently known as The Times and Sunday Times Community which we hope will become the key interface between the digital team and our customers.
The Community is a space for subscribers to start discussion threads about issues important to them, suggest improvements, feedback on new designs and participate in surveys about product innovations that are still at the ideas stage.
We are keen to understand more about the diverse interests of our digital customers, so participants are asked to complete a number of questions about themselves so that we can ask more targeted questions, particularly in respect to technology and people’s engagement with the apps and websites that we provide.
In the past, various initiatives have endeavoured to get us closer to customers and allow them to contribute to the development of our products. Most notable was The Times Innovation Panel or iPanel which focussed exclusively on The Times iPad community and utilised tools such as Google Moderator to aggregate and prioritise ideas from readers.
Initial feedback from February 2012 indicated that the separation of The Times and the Sunday Times into different apps and the lack of Newstand functionality were the biggest issues for readers so we focussed on delivering a ‘7 Day App’ that would appear in Newsstand for much of the remainder of the year.
Subsequent testing of the new app via a distribution service called Appaloosa revealed issues and concerns that we were not able to fully address ahead of an agreed release date, nor were we able to adequately process, analyse and feedback on customer comments.
Understandably, customers who had taken the trouble to provide feedback were frustrated at this and we are keen to learn from our mistakes so have invested in a fully managed Community service that has the resources available to truly manage customer expectations in this regard.
We hope that the Community will help to make the Times and Sunday Times a better service to all of our customers. Interested subscribers, please signup here: https://thetimescommunity.edigitalresearch.com/signup
29 4 / 2013
On 27th April we released an ‘e-paper’ app for the iPad. This app is a brand new product for The Times and Sunday Times and allows subscribers to read a PDF ‘facsimile’ of the print edition of the newspaper.
This product was developed and released for two reasons:
1. As a response to customer requests to be able to read the print edition in a digital format.
2. To allow customers with an iPad1 who have been experiencing problems reading our existing iPad app the opportunity to read the edition on their tablets.
The app publishes all the supplements of The Times and The Sunday Times with the exception of the magazines which will be added within the next few weeks. The product is not a newsstand product to avoid the confusion of having two version of The Times next to each other as we believe our original app is still the best way to read The Times and Sunday Times on the iPad.
Some may see this as a perplexing almost retrogressive step for a brand committed to a digital future. Around 12% of The Times iPad readers use an iPad1 and, although we have no current plans to discontinue support for iOS5 in forthcoming releases, all developers and publishers face the challenge of supporting hardware that is increasingly outdated as software develops and the limitations of devices that are still only three years old becoming increasingly apparent.
Ever since Apple effectively discontinued support for the iPad1 by restricting the latest version of its operating system (iOS6) to iPad2 and above there has been an ongoing debate in the development community regarding the level of support to provide for legacy versions of iOS and hence iPad1 owners as a consequence.
Whilst there is no evidence that Apple deliberately discontinues its products to drive sales of its new products - it is generally accepted that they endeavour to influence product upgrades via the release of great new features and improvements in their new releases.
With the pace of product development since its inception 3 years ago, it is easy to overlook the fact that the original iPad was an expensive, premium purchase of around £400 and the notion that it is already obsolete and must be upgraded is not surprisingly hard to swallow for many of our customers.
18 4 / 2013
The Times recently welcomed Sheryl Sandberg to a Times+ members event in which the COO of Facebook, in conversation with Camilla Cavendish, outlined the key themes of her book (Lean In) and took questions from subscribers in what proved to be a hugely successful evening.
The Times work with our video partner Ooyala to provide streaming media content to our website and mobile apps and hope to increase the number of livestreamed events with high calibre speakers for Times’ subscribers over the next few months. These events are key to the evolution of the brand from being purely a content provider to a premium service brand. Times+ Talks are not just a value add to a subscription but a critical part of the experience The Times provides. An archive of the most recent Times+ Talks can be found on the smartphone apps for either iOS or Android.
Head of Product Management - The Times and Sunday Times
Please tweet us or leave a comment if you enjoyed Sheryl’s talk, particularly if you watched it live via the web or on your mobile.
22 3 / 2013
“Budget day” is a day of snapshots. Snaps on the television news ticker, the rolling live blogs and of course, in your Twitter feed. In the midst of it all, we wanted to move George Osborne’s budget headlines away from static text on a page, so we decided to make them move.
Our recently formed visual journalism team (@curtismattp and @fraserlyness) decided to take on the task via Vine. The two-month old mobile video service, introduced by Twitter, provided the best way for us to animate inside the Twitter stream without having to tweet an external link.
Vine’s simplicity and charm was another alluring factor. The six-second stock frame template challenged us to work outside our traditional platforms and see how we could be creative on Twitter’s terms.
To make the main headlines from the speech accessible to readers on Twitter in an engaging way.
Prep-work: One day
Forward planning was crucial but it wasn’t time consuming. The day before the Budget we sat down with some of the money and business reporters and discussed the expected announcements.
We created a design framework around those Budget predictions and prepared for a test run. We built a bespoke tripod out of plastic cups, stacks of A4 paper and a letter tray. We ran through a few tests and adjusted lighting. The rest we left for improvisation on the day.
Budget Day: 15 minute turn around
As the news lines broke from the speech we adjusted what we had prepared. The hard hitting topics that stayed with us from beginning to end were: Growth, borrowing, personal allowance, pension, alcohol duty, housing and corporation tax.
Due to the complexity of the announcement or its lack of news value, we had to cut some we had prepared, ie.
captain gains, small business, fuel duty, tobacco duty.
Each topic had their own story sequence printed out on sheets of paper. Every subtle progression of movement had its own sheet and each sheet was shot and stitched together to display in video form.
So in six seconds, viewers were given a snapshot of some of the main announcements in the Budget with hand made Vine graphics by Times designers. We had a lot of fun putting the headlines in motion and experimenting with Vine for news infographics.
-Megan Lucero, data journalist -@Megan_Lucero
What did you think? How would you have done it differently? We would love to hear your feedback. Send me a tweet @Megan_Lucero or drop me a line at email@example.com. To get in touch with the designers behind the project contact @curtismattp and @fraserlyness.
20 3 / 2013
At South By SouthWest Interactive this year, Alex Breuer (@ajbreuer: now Creative Director at The Guardian) presented a case study on the multi-channel publishing system developed by News International which now powers The Times and Sunday Times tablet apps for Android, Kindle Fire and iPad.
Responsive design was one of the ‘hot topics’ at Sxswi this year - alongside Big Data, Space Travel and 3D Motion control - and, as a result, panels and presentations which covered the subject were elevated to the bigger ballrooms of the Convention Centre. Most presenters tended to provide hi-level summaries of the key tenets of the field in addition to the key challenges designers and developers faced.
Sharing the stage with Dan Garner from Code & Theory and Dave Rupert from Paravel, Alex discussed his pioneering work on responsive design for columnised, paginated text as part of a panel entitled ‘What you see is what you spec’d’ that was aimed very much at professionals and practitioners rather than interested observers.
Beginning with an overview of how the diversification of the tablet market meant the cost of publishing an edition to first iOS, then Android and Kindle Fire had spiralled and was ultimately unsustainable, Alex outlined how a ‘write once, publish anywhere’ solution was required and this was what he had helped to develop for The Times during his time as Lead Digital Designer there.
He went on to challenge established thinking by pointing out that the mobile devices which are ‘revolutionising’ the newspaper and publishing industry have in fact set the display of text back over 1000 years as single column text was abandoned in around 500AD when paginated layouts were invented and text was presented in columns.
Centuries of experience and a substantial body of research have bourne out the notion that columnised text is the most effective method for displaying long form copy. However, the technical challenge of reproducing these layouts in a mobile or tablet interface meant that publishers had been obliged to revert to the familiar, single column layout at article level. Alex’s objective had been to reproduce the sophistication of these ‘traditional’ formats in an infinite responsive environment.
Discussing issues of equivalence and Cartesian product sequences to limit combinations, Alex gave the crowd an insight into the complexity of the thinking and calculation required to recreate columnised, paginated text across multiple screen sizes whilst maintaining text size equivalence and image integrity. The system Alex helped to develop is, in fact, the subject of at least two patent filings that cover the essence of the grid-based template system which delivers the layouts he describes.
The complete deck from Alex’ session is available on Slideshare here»
13 3 / 2013
I’m really pleased to announce we’ve released a new version of our iPhone app* today (Version 1.5 for those keeping track).
This update gives our readers the ability to share articles to their friends, family and followers.
Times and Sunday Times readers can choose to share via Email, Facebook, Twitter or Google +
It’s a feature that has been missing from our apps for far too long and we’re working hard to bring a more comprehensive sharing experience to all of our journalism.
Just open the App store on your phone and tap update or click here to download it if you are on your phone. If you haven’t tried it before you can sign up for a free 30 day trial.
(You might be asked to login again)
We’re keen to hear your feedback - drop me a tweet @petren or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nick Petrie, Social Media and Campaigns Editor - @petren
*We’ll be bringing the same features to Android soon
14 2 / 2013
On Valentine’s Day we released an upgrade to the current Times iPad app which marks the beginning of the Sunday Times being published within the same app as a 7 day proposition.
This release marks the end of a long period of internal debate and software development for The Times in which, like all newspapers, we endeavour to address the formidable challenge of tablet publishing and the range of different platforms that exist within this new ecosystem. Tough decisions had to be made as the costs of producing editions for one (iOS), then two (Android) and ultimately three (Amazon) platforms became unsustainable.
Joe O’Brien - Lead iOS Developer after successful submission to Apple
The 7 Day app is the final (and most significant) release onto the ‘Mario’ publishing platform developed internally to leverage the benefits of both native and web technologies and enable a single production team to publish editions across all 3 tablet platforms. In addition it will give our individual titles flexibility in developing their own apps in the way they chose without having to rely on 3rd parties (such as the now-retired Woodwing) for support.
Alex Breuer and Mark Steyn - architects of the ‘Mario’ publishing system
This release is version 3.0 of the app and the name has been changed to reflect the fact that it now encompasses both titles.
What are the benefits of this release?
- The Times and Sunday Times together in one app
- The Times and Sunday Times both in Newsstand
- Live news tab available 7 days a week
- Improved Puzzles / Mindgames for The Times
- Text can now be resized on both Times and Sunday Times
This release introduces a new navigation mechanic to The Times app which consists of 3 tabs:
- Live News
Users can navigate between editions of the Times and Sunday Times within the Edition tab. As the ST is a multi-book publication, individual supplements (News Review, Style, Culture etc) are also selected in this tab.
Sections within an edition (Front page, Opinion, Leaders etc) are navigable within the Contents tab.
The Live News tab is a brand new feature for the Times app but has been present in the ST app for over a year. It only works if the iPad is connected to the internet and display a list of the latest stories in real time. Users can click on stories in the list to read the full article.
What happens to the current Sunday Times app?
The Sunday Times will continue to publish to the current app (on the Woodwing platform) until 17th February. The following week (24th Feb) they will publish a ‘We have moved’ final edition that will inform customers they need to download the Times app (if they haven’t already) in order to read the Sunday Times. After this there will be no more publications of the Sunday Times as a standalone app and customers will be prompted to delete it from their device in order to avoid confusion with the ‘new’ 7 Day Times app.
The original Sunday Times tablet app, published via the Woodwing system, is removed from sale
What happens to those that don’t upgrade?
The Times production teams will continue to publish editions to the current app (version 2.8.1) until at least the 20th February and will publish a final ‘Please upgrade your app’ edition as the final publication that messages customers to upgrade to the new version and highlights the benefits of doing so. We will monitor the daily traffic to the app thereafter and decide whether or not to ‘force upgrade’ all customers from 19th February.
Does the app work equally well on all iPads?
iPad1 is a major challenge for all app developers and especially publishers. A large proportion (about 20%) of The Times and Sunday Times customers use iPad1 and we do not have, and never have had, any intention of abandoning them. However, the introduction of web technologies into the app and the use of increasingly sophisticated algorithms to automate layout within a variety of different screensizes and orientations places a heavy load on the processing power of the device.
As a result, iPad1 users will inevitably experience a deterioration in their experience as the product develops and pushes up against the limits of the device. Unlike many app developers, we will continue to support the iPad1 and do our best to ensure that our apps run consistently on this device (ie doesn’t crash) even if the experience is slightly slower than later iPad models. It is worth highlighting that Apple have ceased to support the iPad1 since the release of iOS6 last year.
Paul Jackson - Digital Product Manager, The Times and The Sunday Times