Online Newspapers, Offline

One of the premium features of the New York Times website is the Windows Reader. It's free if you subscribe to home delivery of the paper, otherwise it's $14.95 per month.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I think I agree, if they had put that same effort into the online experience, or finding a way to view the cached online version offline, I think they’d be better off. Maybe they’ve got it down, but every time a feature changes they have to decide if it’s worth translating to the reader, or if it can be at all.

Still the reader looks very nice, and they obviously did research in making it a nice experience. It’ll be nice when a lot of that is more easily possible online.

As much as I love what they did with the NY Times reader, I’m frustrated with their business model around it. The reader’s design was evolutionary for its purpose, but it’s just a shame that they locked it down to NY Times content.

The guys at DNR talked about this with Markus Egger of CoDe Magazine. He has a project called Xiine ( which is similar to the NY Times reader in the sense that it gathers subscriptions and allows you to read them off line (and designed in WPF of course), but it’s not locked down to Code Magazine content. Markus is trying to build an whole community of publishers, and there’s already a fair amount of content that you can add to the Xiine reader. It also recognizes CoDe Magazine subscriptions, so you can go back to any issue and read the content. They say it will eventually become an aggregator for feeds as well. The DNR episode is definately worth listening to:


So the offline reader just caches what amounts to a bunch of PDF files and lets you view them in what amounts to a PDF viewer?

They need some true off-line functionality, perhaps some Ajax love with Google Gears. Most of the dynamic online content, like the ones in your “dynamic content offered on the web page” list, could be done also, but with a delay of course and updating when connected to the Internet (plus, cross platform).

Rather than think of the reader as a computer based version of the print version, they should think of it as an offline version of the online version.

The thing that stands out to me about the screenshots you’ve provided is that the online version dedicates a lot of screen/page real estate to navigation and ads (that MSNBC ad is huge). Vs the offline reader version has more space for nice typography and layout because the navigation is implied and simple (turning pages). Many newspapers print, on the front page or on the inside of the front page, a little “menu” of sections and features, allowing you to use “page number/page turning”-style navigation to get to them. This little print-based “navigation widget” (for lack of a better term) is hardly intrusive in the print version of the paper – why does the navigation in the on-line version take up so much space?

I wrote a Greasemonkey script that replicates some of the NYTimes Reader functionality within Firefox and is applicable to other sites as well:

The script provides a multi-column paginated view of articles, like the Times Reader. It’s missing the typography and offline features (though the offline stuff could possibly be implemented using the Firefox DOM Storage stuff or Google Gears). But, the price is right :slight_smile: I too hope that most or all of the Times Reader functionality will eventually be implementable on the regular Web.

I haven’t tried the Times Reader yet, but two thoughts.

First, my father, who says he hates to read from a computer screen, absolutely loves the TR. I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s mostly because the layout looks more familiar, and after 70 years of reading print papers, he’ll gladly put up with horizontal scrolling in return for something that looks more like what he expects.

Second, I’d probably have TR by now if I had to fly as much as I used to. Maybe the world is increasingly blanketed by Wi-Fi coverage, but there are still significant gaps. One of these is airplanes, and another is airports. Admittedly, there are some pay options for the latter, but I think I’d rather just load up my laptop with reading material before leaving home.

So the offline reader just caches what amounts to a bunch of PDF files and lets you view them in what amounts to a PDF viewer?

No, not at all. I recommend trying the Times Reader so you can get a sense of how it works-- the content is dynamic and rendered using all the power of your desktop PC and video card. But it is exclusively the articles and content. It doesn’t duplicate all the features of the website, many of which are quite useful.

Just realized another obvious and major problem with the reader: how do I get the URL address of an article if I want to share it with other people? That’s a showstopper.

The speed of the interface is fantastic, though. No delays whatsoever moving from article to article, as it’s all cached on the hard drive.

[…] given the increasing prevalence of internet connectivity everywhere, through cellular networks as well as WiFi, does offline mode still matter? […]

it only matters in cases of limited connectivity (maybe in the US it isn’t so, but there are other areas of the world where connectivity IS still an issue).

further, it matters in the event of a disaster: the server is down, you AT LEAST have your offline copy.

Under the missive “I miss this stuff” you list two items that, in regards to news and some other web content, i would be happy to go without - personalization and top (n) most popular/emailed items.

These seem symptomatic of an the ever increasingly ignorant and divided electorate that we are becoming. Personalization means that I get the news that I want when I want it but is that really news that informs and educates? If I view and forward only the most popular are we not also just dumbing down to the least common denominator?

Offline Mode very much matters to me. I’m in a very similar situation to Gordon - being in Australia.

Wireless Data costs (over GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA, etc) are horrendously expensive, so whilst you might be able to get good coverage in most reasonably populated places, nobody can really afford to use it. Paying per kilobyte for both inbound and outbound traffic, on a connection that can do up to 8Mbit in the right conditions is outright dangerous. Especially if you happen to be using it right when Windows decides it needs to download 100MB of updates!

There’s also a lot of places where WiFi just isn’t available. Where it is, there’s a good chance you’d have to pay to use it. And that’s certainly not an inexpensive proposition either.

All in all, offline mode matters.

The website has too much noise.

Just look at the screan shot you provided.

The add for NYTimes and NBC has as much weight as the featured pictures. Its animated and anoing. (why would i care about a NYTimes ad when you are at the NY Times site?

Navigation on the left side has a multitud of choices, which is over whelming. It suggests that you may be able to find something, but with that many categories, you probably wont. Wasting your time as you do page refresh after page refresh navigating.

The Dashboard on the upper right is busy and in the way. Stock quotes Opinion and Travel sections? like i care. I know they are probably what a majority of readers like. But the lowest common denominator needs to learn to bookmark that section. It shouldn’t be on a main page.

Deal of the Day! um like i wanted news please.

Honestly it looks like vomited mess of hyperlinks and images.

It is interesting to see the discussion that NYT should put more effort into their web site. The web is a long way from supporting a model that gives full value to the deeper journalism and longer articles of a paper like the NYT. The web is for short information snippets, it is painful to read more than a page or two. The NYT reader is a good reading experience. For me it is a near thing as to whether I would rather read the NYT via their reader, or the BBC web site, even though the BBC has, in my opinion, much better news coverage.
That the reviewer misses the most read links probably indicates that he is looking for a web browsing experience, not a news reading experience. The NYT reader is aimed at those who are looking for a news reading experience, and would like an alternative to paper. A very different market.

The recent rains here in Puerto Rico killed my DSL connection for the last 3 days. I save Slashdot/WarNerd/CodingHorror articles in my laptop at uni for reading at home. Please /underline do not make your apps online only.

Still wishing I could cache GoogleEarth on my HD,

"Perhaps I am missing something, but after nearly a decade of doing web design and development I am left thinking. ‘what in the sam hell are you talking about?’"
And after a decade of web design development I’m left thinking “why the hell can’t I specify a width of 100% - 20px”. It’s taken far too long to allow the sophisticated and powerful layout such expressions suggest.

"Just realized another obvious and major problem with the reader: how do I get the URL address of an article if I want to share it with other people? That’s a showstopper."
See the links under “Sharing your thoughts with others”.

Sign in and a trial software? No thanks.

And lack of interaction is the reason I stopped using RSS reader. When I’m offline, I’ll pick a book. We’re using the Internet differently now.

I think the offline reader is a good step in the right direction.
I still prefer reading books and news on real paper, that’s why I’m just waiting for these cool digital paper gimmicks to get mainstream products.
Then you won’t have to waste paper for your news each morning, just switch on your digital (news-)paper, and read through the latest news.
Then the NYT reader looks very much like what I’d like the digital paper software to be like.

Also I totally agree with brian, I would have blocked all the spam images right at first.

Jeff, I’m a bit astonished that you like the NYT website so much, because I think that it’s quite the opposite of what you generally preach (simplicity) and what you stated in your last article.

Just realized another obvious and major problem with the reader: how do I get the URL address of an article if I want to share it with other people? That’s a showstopper.

I dont think it was intended to be another web browser, but to replicate reading the paper on your computer. So, just like you would with any paper, the section and the page number.

The new iPod Touch would benefit from some nice offline caching feature since people will want to access content on it between WiFi hotspots. iTunes does the job for audio and video podcasts, but do they have anything for other web content?

This may be a case of DRY violated, but I love the desktop version. Maybe that’s just me though - I always prefer the desktop when given a choice (I’m getting a bit weary of the tyranny of the browser). I don’t like having all the extra crap you mentioned to look at (isn’t that precisely what yesterday’s post about limiting choices and keeping it simple was all about?).
This reader is exactly how I would like to read my newspaper - exactly like the printed version w/o the paper.

I took a trip to Italy for two weeks and I realized how much bandwidth we waste. I had a slow dsl link via wifi, from my cousin’s doorway of his office (and from inside when he was there, which wasn’t often.) From my mail program syncing every imap folder to all the little checks in the background that every program does. Because I normally have broadband I don’t mind most of it. Using Google gears with the Google reader for two weeks for my news and having the images missing and links dead made me realize how useless firefox’s offline viewing is. I need a temporarily offline viewing mode, (who would stay offline?), so I can cache up the pages when I have a connection and read everything when I don’t.