What’s the best recipe for creating new products? The New York Times thinks that you take one part data, one part digital, and a couple dashes of creativity and mix it in with something successful you’re already doing.
Directed by an article by Ken Doctor on the Nieman Journalism site, I just watched an idea-provoking video from The New York Times R&D Lab. It’s about something called the Julia Project that they will most likely roll out next year as part of a new niche product focusing on food and dining. Those sections do well in the current Times section format.
According to the Times R&D website, Julia is “an experiment to think about how usage data and sensor data could be tied into a feedback loop between a publisher and its users to improve future offerings.” Translation? You’ve got data, audience and an idea. Can you connect the digital dots? I think this demonstration video may get you thinking outside the box—or kitchen, to take the metaphor further.
It shows a table with two video screens set up. The idea is that you would select a recipe that you like—“Julia, I want to make this recipe,” the host calls out. The recipe then comes up, the ingredients highlighted, and appropriate video pulled out (here’s it’s leek cleaning). A camera is set up so people have a digital way of recording their annotations to the recipe. Those “notes” will then get integrated into future versions of the recipe—if they are successful, of course. I can even see how gamification can be a part of this.
Like most everyone else, the Times needs to make more money, and has to find new products that people will pay for. Doctor mentions two other new products that they are developing. One is a Smartphone-first briefing of the world. He believes aggregation will be key here, citing BuzzFeed as the successful example everyone now looks to for that. (And I thought they were just for native advertising.) “…aggregation is in a sense just great editing — with all the web as your raw copy,” Doctor writes. The second product will center on Opinion, and Doctor logically wonders how the Times will get readers to pay for this.
The host of the Julia Project video gives a kind of scientific yet everyday feel to it: “We imagine that we can display a genome of the different versions that might have resulted from a recipe, the different additions and changes that users have made. That helps us as content providers better surface information for our readers, and for our readers to find those changes or modifications or personalizations that might be of most interest to them.” You try to use “genome” and “recipe” in the same sentence.
Being connected to a database, Julia can display nutritional postings, records of the calories you’ve consumed and will consume, and so on. The idea, according to the R&D site, is to use the Times’ “recipe database in as many ways as we could: interpreting ingredients and tools, extracting verbs from steps, and tying photography and video into the experience.”
How could this be adapted into other verticals? Perhaps a real estate publisher creates a video that in some way taps into the data they keep on what a refurbished basement can do for your sale price. And then shows you different ways to refurbish it, gives contractor recommendations from fellow customers, etc. What if a healthcare publisher lets customers tag along in some way with their reporters as they pursue a story. The customer can be typing in questions in real-time, seeking clarifications, the questions triggering a database of your company’s knowledge. The goal, as the Times puts it, is to bring “a new component of our offline lives into a connected, digital conversation.”
Will people pay for it? It’s easy to say that the Times is huge so they can experiment more easily. But in a sense, their size—and precarious position in the new world—makes the outcome of these new products a big deal. R&D departments aside, take a moment and think about what your new recipe might be for 2014.
To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.
Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 as managing editor. Follow Ronn on Twitter at @SIPAOnline