“Bounded Browsers” in the NYT Cooking App

Mary Margaret Herring

For this response, I decided to download the New York Times Cooking app for iOS. Since the content featured on this app is also featured on the New York Times Cooking website, it should be an interesting case study when determining how the bounded features of the app compare to the website.

Immediately, I noticed that the content featured on the app and website were extremely similar. Both the website and the app prominently displayed the same seasonal categories of recipes. After choosing a category of recipe, both versions of the site display all the recipes in that category. Then, you select the recipe that you’d like to view and the app and website take you to the recipe. On both platforms, users must login to access the cooking site and are able to save recipes to their virtual recipe box. Users can also mark recipes as ‘cooked’ to keep track of what they have and haven’t made and add private notes to the recipes.

At first, it seemed that the app would be preferable to the website because users could receive more personalized suggestions based on their app usage. However, since users login before accessing the cooking site, their interactions with the site can easily be recorded. In fact, the site could even do this without the login by using cookies to identify users (Karp in Code.org, 2015). For this reason, the ability to receive personalized content or view previously saved recipes on the app isn’t different from the website.

But, one feature that exists on the app that is not on the website is the “Start Cooking” feature. This makes it easier to view the recipe while you’re cooking from your phone. The first page displays the ingredients needed with an interactive checkbox feature next to each ingredient. The next page has each step of the recipe with the current step that the user is on bolded so that it is easier to access. As a person who often uses their phone as a resource while cooking, this feature made me very excited because it did all the work of zooming into the recipe and preventing the screen from sleeping ­– eliminating the need to touch the screen with messy hands.

An external link opened within the NYT Cooking app for iOS.

A linked page accessed in the NYT Cooking app. When accessing this page, there is no search bar and the interface always provides a back arrow (top-left) so the user can return to the recipe.

Since the app had only one feature that the website was missing, this led me to question why NYT had even made a cooking app. However, it soon became clear that the app exploits the principles of the web by containing the user in a much smaller section of the web. As Carrie Anne points out in the Crash Course video (2017) on The World Wide Web, hyperlinks allow users to link to other pages of content by clicking on material that is highlighted in the page a user is accessing. When a user does clicks on a link in the app, they are taken to the page but a back arrow exists to bring them back to the recipe. Even if they click on more links on the second page, they always have the back button to return them to the recipe. The modified browser in the app exploits the ‘web-like’ design of The World Wide Web by keeping it encased in an interface that easily allows the user to return to the Times’ recipe they were previously viewing. However, on the website, when a user clicks on an external link, they are taken away from the recipe to the linked page (why didn’t they choose to have this page open in a new tab? It’s so easy to do!). The user is then shown more content on the new page and is likely to get distracted or find relevant information somewhere else! Unless the user clicks the back button in the browser, their place in the site is lost and they will have to jump through a number of hoops to find that recipe again. By doing this, the app creates a “bounded browser” that limits a users’ ability to freely jump from link to link by encouraging them to return to the content on the app. As Irvine (2018) states, “[a]pps thus de-Web the Web on many levels by simultaneously exploiting modularity and the open architecture of the Web and Internet for bundling specific functions and services that work only on the device-branded app” (p. 5).

Further, the bounded browser that appears in the Cooking app does not have a search feature. So, if the user finds a piece of information that sparks them to try a new search query, they completely have to exit the app or search from the app’s repository of recipes. For these reason, NYT’s cooking app has the economic benefit of retaining users for longer periods of time and getting them to access their recipes, as opposed to competitor’s sites. This action is contrary to that of the web because it keeps the user coming back to the Times’ recipes instead of freely browsing.


References

Code.org. (2015, Sep 28). The Internet: HTTP & HTML [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/kBXQZMmiA4s.

CrashCourse. (2017, Oct 4). The World Wide Web: Crash Course Computer Science #30 [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/guvsH5OFizE.

Irvine, M. (2018, Nov 12). The World Wide Web: From Open Extensible Design to Fragmented “Appification.” Unpublished Manuscript.