By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An alternative metaphor for reading the news

Times Skimmer. Click on image to see for yourself.

I don’t remember when Times Skimmer was first unveiled by the New York Times, but I do remember being unimpressed. Recently, though, I took another look, and it struck me as new and improved. It’s a different way of experiencing the newspaper, and I think it’s got some real promise.

As with Times Reader, a subscription-only e-reader product, the free (for now) Times Skimmer is laid out in horizontal pages that you can flip through quite efficiently. Skimmer, which compiles the Times’ RSS feeds, is more up-to-date than Reader (though the latter does have a “Latest News” section) and gives you a more-complete snippet of each story, making it unnecessary to page through every story to see what the sometimes-cryptic headlines are all about.

Reader’s advantages over Skimmer are three-fold: (1) you can download the entire paper and take it with you, so you don’t have to be connected to the Internet in order to read it; (2) Reader is typographically more pleasing, as Skimmer simply taps in to when you click on a story; and (3) with Reader you’ve got that day’s Times as opposed to a collection of RSS feeds — a distinction that matters to some of us elderly news junkies.

So what do you get from Skimmer? A different way of looking at that rationalizes the overstuffed, jumbled website. I’ve found several stories using Skimmer that I would have missed if I’d been reading the website or Reader. Among them: this excellent feature from the Lens blog on the last photographs taken by Times photographer Joao Silva, gravely injured in Afghanistan.

One annoying omission from Skimmer is the Times’ book news, including the all-important Sunday Book Review. There are RSS feeds both for books in general and the Book Review in particular, so it wouldn’t be hard to add — which makes me think the omission was deliberate. Based on my incomplete reading, it seems that some book news pops up in the arts feed, but only a few highlights. Unfortunately, there’s no way for us mere users to add feeds to Skimmer.

Skimmer and Reader are the inspiration behind the Times’ Chrome app, which became available last week. As with Reader, you can download it and take it with you; as with Skimmer, it’s a compilation of RSS feeds. I’ve played with it a bit, and though it’s promising, it’s not quite ready for prime time.

Reader, Skimmer and the Chrome app, with their simple, horizontal layouts, all seem to have been devised with tablet computers in mind, although Reader won’t run on an iPad and never will unless the Times moves away from its reliance on Adobe Flash. (There’s also a separate Times app for the iPad, which I have not had a chance to test-drive.)

As such, they represent an interesting alternative to the website metaphor we’ve all grown accustomed to over the past 15 years.

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  1. We recently upgraded to iPhones and I downloaded a bunch of apps, including the NYT and WSJ. I didn’t use them until recently when I have been stuck in situations where I had to wait for someone else. It was nice to just turn on the phone, click renew, and have all the latest news open up on the phone. I was able to read about six or seven things I might have known about had I not been stuck at an overdue appt. This is the part of technology I like.

  2. The skimmer is similar in visual presentation to the IPad app, just not as cool.

  3. Mike Stucka

    There -should- be a way to get the files for offline use — Firefox has a plugin called Read It Later, for example, but I haven’t tried that yet.

    I did try a short wget script to download everything, but and forced it to download the Javascript that’s under the hood, but still can’t get the mirror to work. Might poke at it some more.

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