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May 16, 2014
Late breaking news

"While Yahoo, Excite, and other search engines and directories have amassed fortunes building interfaces to some of the most useless, inaccurate information that exists on the planet, newspapers like the Times and the Post have pretty much been sitting on their big, fat, stupid assets.

Given that publishers have always been far more focused on tomorrow's newspaper rather than yesterday's, their failure to recognize the new potential of their archives isn't that surprising. In the old media world, after all, reporters still commonly call their archive the "morgue" - a figure of speech that doesn't exactly evoke notions of a dynamic new profit center. As a result, virtually every online newspaper exhibits the same fundamental design flaw: The daily edition of the paper takes precedence even though it mostly duplicates what's already available in a perfectly acceptable wood-pulp format.

The archive, which in its new online setting could function like a kind of geographically specific encyclopedia, a professionally researched and written record of people, places, and events - an entity, in short, which has no analog equivalent - exists mostly as an afterthought. Its costliness doesn't encourage browsing; its interface is designed only for people who know exactly what they want anyway.

But suppose the Times offered several decades of its archives online, for free, with a Yahoo-like content tree to help guide you through them? Wouldn't you prefer to read its take on, say, Martin Scorsese's career over the years, rather than some random cinephile's Travis Bickle impression?

Me, 1998

"In a digital world, our rich archive offers one of our clearest advantages over new competitors. As of the printing of this report, we have 14,723,933 articles, dating back to 1851, that can be resurfaced in useful and timely ways. But we rarely think to mine our archive, largely because we are so focused on news and new features."

New York Times Innovation Report, 2014

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:19 AM