I’ve spent some time off and on today with the latest tool from NYTimes.com: TimesPeople, a Firefox add-on that functions as a combo recommendation engine and low-frills social network. The add-on is part of the beta phase: NYTimes.com promises that it will be “baked into the site” for the 1.0 launch. For now, it works like this: log in as a registered NYTimes.com user, pick a display name and location, add people to your network by searching the TimesPeople database or by letting TimesPeople load contacts from other networks (the only option right now is GMail), start recommending. It’s not just about NYT articlesTimesPeople members can share ratings (hotels, movies, restaurants), reviews, and comments. The feed also can be sent to Facebook pages. The site’s CTO Marc Frons describes it “as an example of opening up our site as a place for

our engaged community of readers to convene.”

If NYTimes.com had added TimesPeople a couple of years ago, I might have been wowed. Instead, it’s more like whelmed. Pages with TimesPeople enabled take longer to load and provide less real estate for actual news. (On the other hand, at least the toolbar is only visible when I’m on NYTimes.com.) The idea of claiming people as “My People” whether or not you even know them is a little off-putting. Still, it’s another sign of the willingness to experiment. If it winds up only limited to people trying to follow what Times staffers are doingand those staffers actually keep updating, that’s probably the lowest form of engagement. But if the service keeps evolving andbig “if” comingif even a small percentage of readers become users by creating NYTimes.com-based networks of their own, the potential is significant. In the meantime, if you’re looking for me, try sdkstl.

Video embedded below is of CNET (NSDQ: CNET) News.com’s Caroline McCarthy interviewing two NYTimes.com software engineers, courtesy of CNET and Beet.tv:

Related

NYTCo: Focused On Cost Cuts, Digital Growth, And Maybe A Prudent Acquisition The Future Of New York Times, In Situ Goldman Internet: NYTCo.’s Nisenholtz: The Rise Of Social Nets Squeezing Prices New York Times Launching Its Mobile-To-PC Content Sharing Service

Our mobile application for Blackberry and other Smartphones brings you the latest headlines when you’re on the go. Go here to download.