Ever spend a non-trivial amount of time working on something, only to find that you've almost completely wasted your time? That's what happened last week, when I spent about an hour testing a variety of old and new URLs to articles at the New York Times, attempting to find a reproducible method of linking to them in a way that provided free, permanent access. With help, I came up with a solution, but it hasn't turned out to be nearly as easy or clever as it could have been. (See "Create Permanent Links to the New York Times," 2007-02-19.)
Thanks to Seth Theriault for sending me a set of test URLs that make linking to New York Times articles even easier. Let's say you want to link to this article about Steve Jobs's letter about digital rights management:
That's an old article now, so following that link would take you to TimesSelect. But according to Seth, and he's right, merely appending "/partner/rssnyt" to the above URL (not to the TimesSelect URL that appears when you load it in your browser) will make it permanently available for free, as in:
That's great, since you can now access old articles for which you have only the base URL by merely appending the magic string to the end. Or at least that's the theory - Seth tells me that although it usually works, it's not guaranteed to do so, especially on older articles.
But that's not all. The New York Times requires registration, and while registration is free, some people prefer not to sign up. (Using the "/partner/rssnyt" links requires registration.) Seth notes that using the Permalink feature available while reading any article provides a URL that not only gives permanent free access to the article, it sometimes sidesteps the need to register. I say "sometimes" because the permalink to the article about Jobs's letter doesn't circumvent the registration requirement, whereas this permalink (to an article about Kodak printers) currently does:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/15/technology/ 15printer.html?ex=1329195600&en=a836993738d1d5d1 &ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
Even more confusingly, I created a permalink to an article (Michael Pollan's must-read "Unhappy Meals," about what we should be eating) a few weeks ago that does require registration, and it's different from the permalink that I can create from the same article now. Both provide free access to the article, but for some unknown reason the article is also once again available for free at its plain URL. Plus, although I didn't keep detailed notes of my testing, I could swear that my permalink took me to TimesSelect for that article when I was writing this up last week.
All I can conclude is that the New York Times Web weavers have a variety of options available with regard to article access, and they can and do change those options at will. For now, though, the "/partner/rssnyt" string is all that's necessary to make a normal New York Times URL into one that will remain accessible for free.