NYT's R&D Lab Thinks Like a Futurist

I love this.
The denial and despair that has consumed content industries - music, film, publishing, broadcast - for the last two decades is, finally, being replaced by some honest-to-goodness innovation. The smart thinking and smart moves that are now coming out of in-house R&D labs, such as the New York Times began in 2006, is inspiring. There, they're exploring big questions (or, what I refer to as Best Questions) that go deeper than "how do we counter falling circulation and advertising in print; survive the 'freemium' economy; make our newspaper tablet-friendly; or use social media to create followers?" 

Instead, the NYT-R&D (seems to be) asking questions related to what kinds of information will be meaningful for people in the future, how will they interact and use it, and what are the technologies that will mediate that exchange?  After combing through their site it looks like they've arrived at some smart thinking (my interpretations).

  • Smart thought #1: The future of NYT goes beyond "all the news that's fit to print" to "all the news and content that matters to you."
  • Smart thought #2: What matters to you shifts with context and activity. For instance, what matters to you when you first wake up is different than what matters to you at breakfast, work, making dinner, or relaxing at home.
  • Smart thought #3: What constitutes 'meaningful' information is determined by 1) individual preferences (values, interests, identity), and 2) context: social setting, activity, and role.

Best Questions: How does the NYT become the primary information portal for the NYT customer, throughout the day? What are technology platforms, existing and emerging, allow us to 'be there' for our customers at every turn, anticipating and organizing context-specific information?

It appears that the NYT-R&D lab was created to 'live' in this inquiry, as it were. To research and explore new ways of connecting to their customer, to provide thought leadership for the company and industry alike, and to create prototypes of new platforms that can evolve the economic model for the 'news' business. To that end, they've invested in some smart moves.

  • Smart move #1: Make R&D and innovation a priority! Invest in it!
  • Smart move #2: Identify innovations that are coming out of R&D labs in technology companies and universities that to make context-specific customization possible, such as Microsoft's Surface (table) and Kinect technologies (see previous post).
  • Smart move #3: Play and prototype new concepts to demonstrate what the future will look and feel like (see below).
  • Smart move #4: Treat your research as an asset, and leverage it within the company to build a culture of forward-thinkers, and to maintain a position of leadership in the industry.
In addition to developing prototypes and demonstrations, the R&D lab also provides trends presentations within The New York Times Company and, occasionally, in industry events and conferences. These future-looking visions provide a perspective not only on the technology issues that may soon arise, but also on the implications those technologies have on consumer behavior, personal privacy, and the media industry at large.

From www.nytco.com