NYT Labs, founded in 2006, is the research and development arm of the New York Times. The idea is to reach “beyond the next product cycle, identifying trends and technologies that will emerge in the next three to five years.”
Neither a product development group nor a think tank, the Lab creates things that follow from the trends it is tracking. “We develop applications and prototypes that imagine the impacts these changes will create, and we share those prototypes to facilitate innovation and thoughtful consideration of the future of media.”
In a breakdown of some of the trends it tracked in 2014, the Labs identified as key areas: connected objects and environments, self-driving vehicles, wearables, drones, crypto-currencies, and biotech & human augmentation.
- In 2011 the Labs came out with News.me, a personalized news reader that tells you what your friends are clicking and sharing. “It was the first product that the Times felt was strong enough to stand on its own,” Digiday wrote. The product was sold to Betaworks, an incubator in which the Times has an investment.
- In 2012 the Times started R&D Ventures in an effort to commercialize innovations emerging from the R&D Lab. But it was not a significant revenue generator and it was closed in 2013.
- The crowdsourcing project Madison uses the Times’ archive to explore the various ads that have appeared in the paper since it started in 1851 and provide an unexamined cultural history. Starting in 2014, Madison relies on reader participation to sift through the ads—identifying, tagging, and categorizing them to give the data more structure.
- In 2014, the R&D Lab launched Vellum, a tool that aggregates links posted on a user’s Twitter feed. Users sign into their Twitter accounts through Vellum’s site to find a master list of links posted by everyone they follow and ranked by how often they’re shared.
- Originally only available to staff of the Times, the language-tracking tool Chronicle is now accessible to the general public. It allows users to search terms of interest and charts the number of articles that have featured those terms every year since the Times began. Users can also click on a year and find a list of articles. The Upshot has featured findings on the usage of specific words such as “insurgent.”