March 3, 2006

Work at Topix, Build a Better Informed Society

by skrenta at 4:01 PM

Updated: 02-Aug-06

In 1998, when Bob Truel and I wrote the prototype for, it took us 2 months to finish the first version of the code. We launched, signed up lots of volunteer editors, and 5 months later Netscape acquired our project and helped make the ODP the largest directory of the web. The prototype code we wrote that summer in 1998 is still running at AOL today.

That's not a good thing. What kept dmoz on top, despite many attempts by competing projects to displace it, wasn't the depth or sophistication of its software system. It was basically a set of web forms on top of a simple hierarchical database. What kept dmoz on top was a network effect. It's the same effect that will keep eBay on top of its market for the rest of our lives.

In 2002, when team dmoz left AOL to found Topix, we wanted to base the value of our next company, not on a network effect or a fad or gimmick, but on the depth of the intellectual property -- on the strength of the underlying software system. A software system where programmers could come to work every day, add improvements, do that for years and years, and still add value. Over time, the software system itself would provide the competitive differentiation for the business, and the barrier to entry for others.

We found such a problem in crawling, geo-localization and subject categorization of the news. Named entity disambiguation. About-vs-mention discrimination. Heat and tone language detection. Zero-configuration scalable crawling. All in-memory index serving. On-the-fly category merging, clustering, de-duplication, and geo-spinning. Auto-tuning bias weights in our robo-editor.

In 2006, many other companies have now recognized the significance of audience shift from offline to the net. VCs have funded $30M worth of Web 2.0 news startups (all going for a network effect). We find ourselves with a 2-year technology lead, an audience of 5M unique visitors, and investment from the top three newspaper companies in the US.

We supply local news to Ask Jeeves, AOL, Citysearch and Earthlink. And we count the New York Times, BusinessWeek, the Washington Post, USA Today, and 177 other publications as partners.

But we need one more thing to achieve our goals.


The great challenge, as well as the greatest opportunity offered by the Internet is to fulfill its promise as the first mass two-way communications medium. The printing press and the antenna tower have given way to the net. Mass media is in the hands of the masses. Our goal is to build the social architecture of discovery and participation.

We're here to build the #1 news site on the web. Seriously.

We're looking for: (current as of 02-Aug-06)

  • Software engineers (Perl, C)
  • Network operations - Sr Dir/VP
  • Online community manager
And, we wouldn't like you if you weren't skeptical. Check us out. Read our blog, see what we have to say, and check out what people have to say about us. We've got a great future. Come be part of it.

jobs (at) topix dot net