With the help of the Times beta620 group, the average NYTimes.com user can consider themselves a beta tester, as The New York Times has released a new browser tool (available as a Chrome extension, Firefox add-on, or simple bookmarklet) allowing readers to test experimental web features the Times is not yet sure are ready for the actual website.
According to David Erwin, a software engineer with beta620, the point of their work was to see how these experiments would play on NYTimes.com. However, the downside of beta620 was it being a separate website. With Test Drive (the name of this beta testing feature) readers can experience new possible Times’ developments as they read their daily news.
The Times’ innovation staffers are aware that the kind of people who discover and install the browser extensions are not a random sample of Times readers as a whole. However, they are OK with that. As Marc Frons, the Times chief information officer told Nieman Journalism Lab, “I think the quantitative data will be less important here than the qualitative, where people’s comments and our own understanding of how we’re using these tools and experience will be more important than measuring clickthroughs or that sort of thing.”
At this time users can beta test such features as NYT Accessible, which is aimed at making the site more friendly to vision-impaired readers and TimesInstant, an article search that produces results while you type.