- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Washington Times Web site became a more convivial place over the last week, thanks to a spectrum of improvements for readers who crave clear interaction with the newspaper’s content and staff.

In other words, same address - but cooler tools.

Among the many new features, Web readers can now:

• Subscribe to daily e-mail alerts covering more than a dozen subjects from politics to the Redskins.

• Click on a reporter’s byline and see a list of other stories he or she has written or to send the reporter an e-mail.

• Vote on stories to give them a rating of between one and four stars.

• Listen to an audio version of each article or opinion piece by clicking the “Click to Listen” button.

• Access stories on an iPhone under the local Washington tab of the Mobile News Network, a news-aggregation software package created by the Associated Press and available for free download at iTunes.

“This is the first of many upgrades for the Times Web site. We’re introducing new tools to improve the experiences of our readers when they visit us online. We want those experiences to be personalized - and above all, more meaningful,” said Christopher Wavrin, director of The Times’ Internet technology department.

Mr. Wavrin has his own favorite new feature: “If there is one thing I’m excited about, it is the ability for readers to log in to our site without having to create a new account. They can use an existing account such as Google, Facebook or Yahoo,” he said.

Fascinated or perhaps incensed by a story? It will be easier to share it with like-minded folks via social bookmarking at Digg, MySpace or dozens of other destinations. The updated navigation menu is efficient and easy to use.

Should the urge emerge to communicate, a new Feedback button offers a quick, direct way to complain, ask questions, suggest ideas or praise The Times. That designation bears a little heart, by the way. The Feedback button is available on every page.

The opportunity for readers to sound off also is expanding, from suggesting a question reporters should ask President Obama at the next news conference to voting on and commenting on stories.

“Today’s issues demand an informed and engaged public. The Washington Times values and encourages direct input from readers on its Web site. Actually, the site belongs to them. We’re just the stewards,” said Maria Stainer, assistant managing editor of the Continuous News Desk. “Truly, I consider our readers our partners in the daily coverage of today’s news.”

The Times bolstered its comment sections with a “thread” feature. This allows readers to comment on other comments with one click, right there in the middle of things. This embellishment is rewarding, expands the scope of thought and it’s easy.

In addition, the newspaper offers several links to subscribe to e-mail alerts that provide daily updates on a wide variety of topics of strong personal interest.

The Web site’s home page has some other tweaks. The famous - or maybe infamous - Times “news cube” (top left) now spins on its own, changing every seven seconds, to show the reader all the top stories that are available to read. News aggregation has been refined. The paper also has added a “Times Partners” box (lower right) offering links to stories from Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network, with more to come.

In addition, a larger “theme” box (mid-page) showcases groups of stories reflecting the dominant interests and news topics on a given day. There’s also enhanced listings of most-read, most-shared and most-commented-on stories, and a new events calendar - click on a day and, voila, news you can use about political, governmental, military and charitable activities du jour.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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