BostonGlobe.com fires up the cash register

BostonGlobe.com is supposed to shut down any minute now. When it returns, at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, it will become a paid site, eventually costing $3.99 a week. The best deal: taking home delivery of the Sunday paper for $3.50 a week, which gives you access to all of the Globe’s digital content for no extra charge.

Since the debut of the website in September, I’ve heard people complain that it’s too cumbersome to use. My own experience is that it’s gotten better, and that folks at the Globe are responsive to suggestions. In particular, the “Today’s Paper” section has improved. But it works better as a breaking-news site.

Thus I still find myself making some use of GlobeReader, the Adobe Air-based platform that serves as a pretty good representation of that day’s Globe. It’s not perfect — content is sometimes missing, and photos seem like an afterthought. But for those of us who still like to flip through the paper, I find you can do so much more efficiently than you can with the website. (You can use GlobeReader with a laptop or desktop computer, but not with an iPad or a smartphone, since those don’t support Air.)

Globe publisher Chris Mayer told me in August that GlobeReader would continue to be offered for some time to come, but would not be improved and would eventually be phased out. So it’s not a permanent solution.

So let me suggest that the Globe work on something similar to New York Times Skimmer, a website that presents all of the Times’ major RSS feeds in a Reader-like format. I think offering that in addition to the standard website would give readers a couple of good options depending on how much time they had and what device they were using. And Skimmer works on the iPad.

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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 NYTimes.com 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 NYTimes.com 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.