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Beta620: It’s Like Google Labs For The New York Times

On Sunday evening, The New York Times released beta620, a website showcasing experimental projects that the paper is working on.

It’s a playground, in that development versions of the seven initial projects featured there are functional. Feedback and suggestions are being actively solicited from the public. Many of the projects on beta620 won’t see the light of day on the NYTimes.com production site. But some will “graduate” (Google Labs-style) and become features of the main site.

Three of the seven projects are currently “featured” on the beta620 site.

Community Hub is definitely the most exciting of the projects, in my opinion. The Times recently shuttered its TimesPeople social networking function, but with promises to bring back a new system soon. While not officially acknowledged on beta620, it appears as if Community Hub is the development version of the new TimesPeople. It’s essentially picking up where TimesPeople left off. Right now, there are a lot of similarities between TimesPeople and Community Hub, but as the project progresses, it will be interesting to see how Community Hub becomes different from TimesPeople, in both functionality and design.

TimesInstant is like Google Instant search for Times content. Using the Times article search API, the search auto-completes, and makes instant, context-based suggestions.

The third project is the Crossword Web App. Times crossword lovers who own iPads will love this project. Quite simply, it’s the Times crossword puzzle in HTML5, which makes the puzzle iOS-friendly.

The other projects are:

  • Longitude: A map that displays where news is happening based on geotagging;
  • The Buzz: A heat map based that’s based not on clicks, but on social sharing of articles;
  • Smart Search Bar: An enhanced search function for the NYTimes.com homepage; and
  • Times Companion: A system that delivers in-article contextual information on particular topics.

The Times employs some of the best developers in the business, so it’s very exciting to see a website launch to showcase what they’re working on.

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