June 6, 2006

Topix.net For Sale

by tolles at 4:23 PM

On Saturday, Steve Rubel outed our Classified System, which we've been quietly baking on our local news pages for about a month. While we still think it's a bit premature to crow about this, given that a classified system is only as good as the ads it gets, and that many many others are trying to climb this particular greased pole, the cat's out of the bag, and after getting a few calls on this, there were a couple of things that we'd like to clear up.

Why are we doing this?

Our goal here at Topix.net is to help people connect better with their community -- whether that be where they live, or what they're interested in. We started by collecting news from all over the net and using technology to automatically tag it with geo-location and topic.

But our customers wanted more. Thousands of source suggestions we received told us that people on our site wanted blogs alongside mainstream news sources, so we added them.

And they kept sending us news stories, so we created a place where they could post them and talk back to the news.

But then we found that people on our site were posting things for sale in our forums. Initially we looked at this as spam, but realized that if the posts were properly tagged, they wouldn't be spam, they'd be a valuable community resource.

So a classified advertising system was simply the next logical step that came from listening to our users.

If you live in a big city, you probably have access to a free classified system now -- but for most of the thousands of cities and towns across the US, you're SOL. We wanted to fix that -- as well as providing a product that publishers could syndicate. The Topix.net Classified System is soliciting ads directly from users -- we're not aggregating ads from others, and all of the technology is designed and developed here at Topix.net.

The key to making this work, as Jeff Jarvis rather tartly points out, is a lot of local traffic. With over 7M unique visitors, spread out pretty evenly geographically, we are getting great pickup. We're getting great traction on our forums -- 8,000 posts a day, with real diversity (not just the Web 2.0 crowd). The new Topix classified ad system is growing at a similar pace.

Newspaper guys are pretty smart about their business (industry self-flagellation pieces notwithstanding). It's clear that a "free" classifieds system is going to be part of an overall listings strategy. Currently, we're featuring our classifieds on every one of our 30,000 local news pages, and while placing an ad is free to the user, we're putting contextual advertising on the ad rollup pages as well as the individual ads as a way to monetize the advertising.

By the way, there is another major new feature on our site that we haven't talked about yet. More on that later ... :-)