Readers can now subscribe to NYT Now's Morning Briefing.
Readers can now subscribe to NYT Now's Morning Briefing. Image credit: The New York Times.

Even before The New York Times released the updated version of NYT Now this morning, sharp-eyed users of the app spotted evidence of its biggest change: an increased focus on curating articles that weren't produced by the Gray Lady's reporting corps.

In the weeks leading up to the app's reboot, The New York Times began serving readers stories from other publications in its main tab, which previously had been reserved for Times content.

This strategy proved to be a prelude to today's release, an overhaul that brings the design of NYT Now closer into alignment with popular social media apps like Twitter. Rather than requiring readers to navigate between two tabs — one for New York Times content and the other for external links — the app now features one continuous stream of news with reads from The New York Times and elsewhere.

Today also marks the debut of a new business model for the app. Users of NYT Now, which had previously been tethered to the newspaper's metered paywall strategy, can now view as many articles as they'd like free of charge. Instead of adding users to the company's subscriber base, the new version of NYT Now attempts to generate revenue by building a broad audience that the paper can sell ads against.

Perhaps the most noteworthy tweak in the updated version is the app's increased emphasis on curation, providing readers with the strongest stories regardless of which publication they come from. Cliff Levy, an assistant editor at The New York Times, is quick to emphasize that the app is grounded in the paper's journalism but acknowledges that the focus on outside sources is "relatively radical" for The New York Times.

"There will be a great deal of New York Times journalism in the app," Levy said. "However, there will also be the rest of the Web, the rest of the news ecosystem as presented by New York Times editors. And I think readers are going to respond very positively toward that."

Another concession toward reader experience is a new feature that aims to provide users with the freshest slate of stories upon opening up the app. The new version has a reverse chronological feed that automatically populates with the stories that surfaced since readers checked the app last.

"So if you came in through the app an hour ago and you come in again, you'll just see the new stories that were put in the app since the last hour at the top of the feed," Levy said. "If you came into through the app 24 hours ago, you'll see a fresh feed with the traditional New York Times hierarchy."

Also of note: The app, which has featured breaking news push notifications since the launch of the first version, now enables users to subscribe to an alert for the "Morning Briefing," a roundup of the day's need-to-know stories.

In addition to the user experience overhaul that The Times undertook for the front-facing redesign of the NYT Now, the app's backend also got a facelift. The CMS, which gives the app's editors a preview of the story bundles that appear in NYT Now, now has analytics tools built in to tell editors which stories are gaining the most traction with readers.

"Because curation is more front and center for the 2.0 version of the app, we've actually rebuilt most of the admin that we use to power NYT Now," said Brian Hamman, director of technology for new digital products at The New York Times.

The app's most conspicuous change — the elimination of a separate feed exclusively for external stories — was prompted by a realization on the part of Times staffers that readers are hesitant to view a second tab in any app. Reader surveys and analytics showed that users who read a combination of New York Times and non-Times articles had a better experience and came to the app more often, so merging the two feeds seemed like a reasonable step.

"To get at this, we built several prototypes that we showed to different groups of users," Hamman said. "From these tests, we were able to dial in the design and voice of our external articles and understand how we could combine them with New York Times content into a single feed."