I really enjoy the Times Topics pages, and I think the New York Times does this exactly right. We’ve talked several times in the past about posts vs. pages and how they’re fundamentally different. To wit:
With Wikipedia, you’re not seeing a series of posted items. You’re seeing a single body of information, continually updated and groomed. Thus, the basic information stays right where it’s easy to see. Wikis are more “speak to me like I know nothing” information, rather than “tell me the very latest nuance” information.
The ideal is really a combination of both – keep the basic (wiki-ish) information right there, and have a sidebar of the latest (blog-ish) information as it comes in.
The New York Times is a newspaper, so articles are really equivalent to posts – timely pieces which explain the latest developments on a situation. What’s lacking with most newspapers are pages, wiki-like backgrounders on specific topics, so that I can read a situation from the beginning and completely understand it.
This happened today. I was reading an article about a settlement agreement NYC just made with a contractor about CityTime, a piece of software the contractor was writing for the city. The article seemed interesting, but I had no idea what CityTime was, so I felt like I was coming in on the middle of a conversation.
But, lo and behold, I clicked on the CityTime link and I got sent to this page, which was a completely backgrounder on the CityTime saga, including links to all 29 news articles about it, including articles about the scandal, and the original article announcing the project five years ago.
I’m really interested in how The Times keeps these topic pages updated. Whenever a new article is published, do they review the topic page to see what information it impacts? Do they have to wait for an article to be published? If they hear something new, do they immediately update the topic page, Wikipedia-like? What is the dividing line between information that gets an article, and information that only rates a change to the topic page?
Regardless of the complexities of producing it, this is a great mix of topical and background information. This is really how it should be done. Bravo.