In adapting new mediums, there is always a period where the shape of the old form is mirrored in the new form’s space. For example, an early television ad looked like this. Radio had simply repositioned itself in front of a camera. It took years for advertisers to fully realize what could be achieved on the small screen. Nearly half a century later, the highly polished 30 second spot that those early sponsor announcements had evolved into would make the jump online with little change –aside from a taking advantage of more lenient regulations– when internet video came of age. Even today, the “best” viral ads still follow the tried and true format.
In a similar pattern, the online newspaper has always adapted the traditional layout of its printed cousin. The better rags have introduced interactive components and with the onset of blogging, there has been, for better or worse , the ability for reader comments. But the overall structure has remained intact. Meanwhile, sites such as Facebook, Friend Feed, Twitter and, of course, the all-powerful RSS feed have turned our mode of consuming information from categorized columns into a constantly updating flow.
Today, the New York Times, in what is being heralded by the likes of Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) and Dave Winer (@davewiner) as a watershed moment, introduces the Times Wire, an at-a-glance view of the paper’s latest content, in reverse chronological order without any other weighting or sorting. As Winer states, “They’re now presenting their news flow as a flow. Gone is the pretense that news on the Internet works like news on paper. Welcome to the NY Times river of news”.
RSS has been with us for 10 years now. And unlike a number of other trends and technologies, it has survived and thrived and essentially become the backbone for the current information revolution. After a decade, one might ask of the NY Times shift in format “So what?” or “Why did it take so long?”. Or, to the more discerning observer, it is a moment to make note: of both the validation of the new form and the prevailing relevance of one of the older forms’ greatest champions.