Last week, The New York Times launched timeSpace, a new start-up incubator aimed at helping to cure its digital woes, but it won’t even come close. The announcement on the timeSpace website invites hot young start-ups to work for four months out of The NY Times offices, joining other digital entrepreneurs as well as employees of the old Gray Lady.
NYTimes.com is one of the most popular sites on the Web and they’ve invested heavily in infrastructure, including an elaborate tagging system. The problem is that none of this makes them money and that’s what businesses are supposed to do.
Reference Search was such a good idea because The New York Times is one of the greatest journalistic operations on the planet. You could go to any word or phrase on the site, double click it and a reference page would pop up, where you would find biographies of obscure figures, definitions of words you didn’t know and short entries about unfamiliar topics, all deftly integrated without any gaudy links to muck up the reading experience.
Without visible links, there was no way for anyone to know that such a treasure trove of information was there and, even if you did know, without prompting you were unlikely to remember to click. You would inevitably end up doing just what you did on every other site – Googling it.
And that’s generally the problem with The NY Times digital business, they tend to get sidetracked with big, impressive projects and forget to run their business. The incubator, in its own way, fits that very same bill – full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.