New York Times Joining the Social Networking Fray?

Yesterday evening, we spoke with Marc Frons, chief technology officer for The New York Times‘ digital side, about the company’s venture into the digital landscape. We called him ostensibly to discuss the site’s plan to release an API (mentioned during a Mediabistro Circus address) that will allow users to “mash-up” the NYT‘s data — think layers on Google Maps.

Eventually the conversation towards some of the other “100 projects” Times Digital is working on to build what Frons called “a news and information platform.” Given the current explosion in social networking, we had to ask if he saw integrating some networking element. His answer:

We don’t want to be Facebook. Facebook is Facebook. We’ll probably do something a little bit different. We’d like it to be like the email an article, only much more robust than that.

He declined to give any more details, but we got the impression something wasn’t too far down the pipeline.

Now about that API…

The goal, according to Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news, is to “make the NYT programmable. Everything we produce should be organized data.”

Once the API is complete, the Times‘ internal developers will use it to build platforms to organize all the structured data such as events listings, restaurants reviews, recipes, etc. They will offer a key to programmers, developers and others who are interested in mashing-up various data sets on the site. “The plan is definitely to open [the code] up,” Frons said. “How far we don’t know.”

Pilhofer and Frons both declined to give any specific dates, but Pilhofer said the API itself will be done “within a matter of weeks.” In the next six months, “we’ll have some of the major pieces — a restaurant guide, weekend events listings and books,” Frons added.

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