NYTimes.com Connects With Facebook; Users Must Opt In

We’re not tracking every site that adds log ins using Facebook or Twitter but when the site is a few months away from putting up a paywall — and it’s one of the top news sites — it’s worth a little attention. New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) execs have insisted for months that social media and metered media can coexist, promising more social and more personalization as the prep for switching on the meter for news stories continues. (They’ve also promised to make sure the meter doesn’t get in the way of sharing once that switch is flipped.) Tonight, NYTimes.com takes a big step in that direction, adding “Log in with Facebook” as an option and remaking its home and article pages to make room for a Facebook news module.

Unlike some sites, the Facebook log in doesn’t replace NYTimes.com registration; it links the two, leaving the news org with total control over its registered user info plus giving it access to some from the social network. Also, the NYT says it will be opt-in, requiring a user connect the two accounts before any of their information is shared with NYTimes.com Facebook users in their personal network — and it won’t be viewable by Facebook users outside their networks. That may save NYTimes.com from some of the uproar that ensued when WashingtonPost.com went live with a version that automatically turned on the feature for anyone logged into both sites. (To clarify, WaPo’s version uses a different setup with social plugins hosted by Facebook. The social net says no user data is shared with the site.)

This doesn’t replace NYTimes.com’s own TimesPeople social news net. TimesPeople allows registered users to set up their own net for recommendations to share content from the site, a feature that has on many occasions sent me to stories or other items I might never have seen. My TimesPeople network is very small, probably too small, but it works for me.

The Facebook module is meant to do the same but on a grander scale. Everyone will see the module. Those who connect their accounts will see their friends’ public activity, including comments and recs. The rest, including Facebook users who don’t opt in, will see the most popular NYT content showing up within Facebook. Both expand the possibilities for discovery; connecting increases the potential for engagement. Instead of NYTimes.com being perceived as a place to see news and jump, the connected user might be drawn in by what’s going on in his or her network. Conversely, Facebook gets more opportunities for its users to engage.

For all the care, it’s not hard to see this feature alienating or merely irking readers who see it as clutter. That’s where another switch would come in handy: the off switch.

Some more details in the NYTimes.com Social Media Tools FAQ.

Update: So what kind of sharing are you signing up for if you connect to Facebook and NYTimes.com? From the opt-in screen:
— Name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information you’ve shared with everyone.
— E-mail permission (of course, NYTimes.com already has an email address if you’re a registered user but this one has a better shot at being real.)
— The Times may post status messages, notes, photos, and videos on your Wall
— Access News Feed posts
— Access your data at any time even when you’re not logged in.
— Access friend lists
— Access profile information: likes, music, TV, movies, books, quotes, About Me, interests, groups, birthday, education history and work history
— Access contact info including hometown, current city and website.

Facebook privacy settings govern what’s visible to others but don’t appear to control the access being granted to NYTimes.com. In the FAQ, the site explains: “Once you have authorized The Times to store select personal data, we may use a subset of that data in the TimesPeople API, which allows developers to use NYTimes.com public activity in their applications.” No real clue yet what that means.