NYTimes launches MyTimes, a weak RSS play

NYTimes.com has launched a limited beta of a personalized news site called MyTimes.com (screenshots via PaidContent), an RSS play that looks more like MyYahoo than it does the recent Newsgator partnerships with MyUSAToday and MyNewsweek. Unlike in those services, it does not appear that users can add sources from outside the recommended feeds to their MyTimes page. If that’s the case then it’s a real shame – I think that the practice of major media companies offering what are effectively branded RSS readers with editorial control over a default OPML file is better than this tame use of RSS. (Update: this may not be the case, but I still don’t care for the format of this service for the reasons below.)

PaidContent reports that MyTimes is currently limited to 5,000 users who have already expressed interest but will be opened for public use later. RSS founding father Dave Winer says he wants to do a seminar on how to design interfaces for RSS readers.

It’s hard to know for sure how this will work until it’s open for use; but when only a few of the most recent items in a limited number of feeds can be viewed then popular adoption of RSS is gained at the loss of huge functionality. I love RSS and feel really ambivalent about things like this. Yes RSS enables widgets (even MyTimes calls them that) but it can do a whole lot more. Even if the MyUSAToday and MyNewsweek sites are a little clunky and not as pretty, they are really useful for serious reading. The ability to add your own sources is key, impress me with the platform and insight of your community editors. Enabling a river of news means that readers can view items according to what’s most recent across all sources – that’s key because once you’ve selected your sources then the time that individual items appear can become more important than which source they came from. Displaying news like a field of discrete building blocks is a crude way to relate to a just-in-time world. Widgets are great for many things, but don’t tell me to view the whole world’s news through them.

Here’s more on Newsgator’s vision for RSS. Isn’t it ironic that the NYTimes is offering a more sterile RSS experience than USAToday?