React and GraphQL at New York Times

Are we a media company or a technology company? Facebook and the New York Times are both asking themselves this question.

Facebook originally intended to focus only on building technology–to be a neutral arbiter of information. This has turned out to be impossible. The Facebook newsfeed is defined by algorithms that are only as neutral as the input data. Even if we could agree on a neutral data set to build a neutral newsfeed, the algorithms that generate this news feed are not public, so we have no way to vet their neutrality.

Facebook is such a powerful engine for distribution, it has allowed for a rise in the number of publishers who can get their voice heard. As a result, large media companies have lost market share because Facebook has replaced their distribution.

The New York Times has always been a media company–but the standards for media consumption have shot up. Millions of people produce content for free, and that content is distributed through high quality experiences like Twitter, YouTube, Medium, and Facebook. When a page takes too long to load on NewYorkTimes.com, it doesn’t matter how good the content is–the user is going to navigate away before they read anything.

Today, the New York Times has built out an experienced engineering team. In a previous episode, we reported how the Times uses Kafka to make its old content more accessible.  In today’s show, we talk about how the Times uses React and GraphQL to improve the performance and the developer experience of engineers who are building software at the New York Times.

Scott Taylor and James Lawrie are software engineers at the New York Times. In this episode, they explain how the New York Times looks at technology. The user experience on New York Times rivals that of a platform company like Facebook, and this is assisted by technologies originally built at Facebook: React, Relay, and GraphQL.

Transcript

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