April was a big news month for The New York Times and other national news outlets that covered the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent suspect chase. To accommodate the growing number of readers who turn to their smartphone devices for breaking news coverage, the Times has completely reengineered the front and back ends of its mobile website for the first time since its launch in 2006.
The smartphone landscape was very different in 2006. BlackBerry (along with Microsoft, Palm and Nokia Symbian) dominated the U.S. smartphone market, and the Times‘ mobile website was designed to accommodate those devices, Alex Hardiman, executive director of mobile products at the Times, recalls.
The Times‘ new mobile web site, unveiled Thursday, is designed to load faster — one to two seconds faster, says Times mobile product manager Michael Behr — and to increase session time and page views. Now featuring a responsive design, the mobile site is moving beyond text-heavy formats to feature more images, videos and slideshows in better resolutions, just like the Times‘ desktop articles pages, which are presently undergoing a redesign of their own.
The new mobile homepage has been revamped highlight breaking news packages, as shown in the two examples above. “The homepage right now is pretty much a singular columnized list of stories,” Behr explains. “We want to be able to emphasize the weight of a big news event, not just [insert it above] a static list of articles,” Hardiman adds. The site’s improved performance will also help the Times handle sudden traffic surges — the mobile site registered a record-breaking 62 million sessions last month, up from a monthly average of 52.7 million.
Beyond the design changes, users can now swipe between articles and sections to navigate, rather than clicking the “back” button to the home or section page. Readers can also now comment on articles and save articles to read later on the mobile web site or on other Times products, including the Times‘ main website and native apps.
The Times is also introducing new ad units to its mobile web site, including a full-page interstitial ad and a bottom banner ad. (It appears the Times is forgoing fashionable native advertisements for now.) Advertisers will be able to target readers based on location, as well.
The Times has an entire newsroom staff dedicated to managing mobile feeds and apps, Behr says. The front page of the Times‘ mobile apps are sometimes updated every minute, while more “germane” sections are updated every hour, he says.
Anyone can access the site, while full access to the Times‘ native apps is restricted to subscribers: namely, those with a print, website plus smartphone, or digital all-access plans.
“For a big news event, the first destination is a smartphone now, especially for something that takes place in the middle of a weekday,” says Hardiman. “[Readers] don’t turn to their tablets, and they certainly don’t turn to newspapers. We want to make sure the mobile web does a nice job of [delivering essential] information in an immersive, elegant way.”