July 31, 2006

Local News for the World

by skrenta at 7:10 PM

Topix.net adds 5,000 International Cities to Local News Aggregation

We've been working on adding international local news to Topix for nearly a year. The first challenge was to obtain the digital map data to drive our local Knowledge Base, which our geo-categorization engine uses to recognize local references in text. We found a suitable dataset put out by the CIA of all people. We then had to make some adjustments to our AI, you can't just scan for city names but have to disambiguate the local lat+long references, and apply some discrimination to eliminate stray mentions from the article stream.

Finally we had to bulk up our international source crawl. In addition to the international news services, which are pretty well covered in our crawl now, we also did a focused addition of world bloggers who were writing about local events in their towns. Since every blog in our crawl is editorially vetted (there is just too much spam in the blogosphere) this was a labor intensive process.

We're thrilled with the result. Currently it's english-only, and the editorial feel of the posts is probably more reliable for the business traveler than a local resident. However, at 5000 cities and growing and with coverage of 171 countries there is a lot of news. Samples:

Quito, Ecuador
...where our lead engineer is climbing a mountain (and we're looking for stories about missing tourists)

Geelong, Australia
...the home of the Australian entrepreneur behind Tinfinger

Sapporo, Japan
...where the head of product for Topix.net lived for five years

Wuxi, China
...just got some CEO-spam offering an all expenses paid trip to visit the city (the first 50 CEOs who reply get the trip!)

Tallinn, Estonia
Ross Mayfield made me think of this one

Liverpool, UK ...well, we had to pick somewhere in the UK

Check here to see the rest.

July 21, 2006

Topix on top of the world :-)

by at 2:56 PM

No, this isn’t a Topix.net reporter trying to gather ZIP code level news from the North Pole (although, who knows, maybe she is doing some citizen journalism up there…) – rather it is one of our users who took the time during a recent trip to the North Pole to take a pic wearing her favorite Topix.net t-shirt. Obviously, we love it – Topix.net, on top of the world!!

July 19, 2006

Topix.net/ZIP: Local News + Mobile Support = Best Mobile News Site

by tolles at 5:32 PM

It took our CEO buying a Blackberry to make it happen, but we just launched our new Topix.net/ZIP service, including support for mobile devices. It's really cool. You can now get local news for every ZIP code in the country by just entering it into the URL on your browser. For example www.topix.net/94303 which gets you the news for here in Palo Alto. The devices supported include Blackberries, Treos, PalmOS phones, Windows CE, AvantGo, SonyEricsson, Symbian, Nokia, and many others. Also, you can use the new URL schema on a normal (desktop) web browser as well.

If you're looking for news about your town, or want to do a news search, or just look at the top headlines of the day, I think we have the best site out there right now. We auto-detect your device, and show your browser the optimized version (and in a cool trick, we even check for screen size, so if you have some WinCE device with a bigger screen we give you're the normal version, but with a smaller screen, you get the optimized site).

Oh, and before I get the obvious question -- yes, you'd think that RSS would have solved all of this. We ship all 32,500 of our ZIP code feeds for your news reader, and all 360,000 news channels as well as any one of our Search results via RSS. I use Bloglines on my Treo, and get some of my Topix.net feeds on it, and I use 4info for headlines on SMS (they license our feeds, and do a pretty good job for SMS delivered news and other info).

But it turns out that I don't really want to muck with signing up for a feed most of the time on my mobile device, I just want to go to the news I want about what I care about. Also, when I want to do a news search for something while I'm mobile, it's unlikely that I'm going to have it pickled into a feed prior to the search. So you *could * use RSS to do all of this, or you could squint, and look at Topix.net as sort of an RSS reader that automatically sorts through 50,000 mainstream news and blog sites to bring you exactly what you want on your desktop, or now, on your mobile device. So, if you like getting your news via our feeds on your mobile device, great. If you want our news on your mobile device without going through a feed reader, this is a nice addition.

One shoutout - we found a great list of mobile user agents over on Zytrax.com. those have put a bunch of nice stuff out on their site, and this made it a lot easier to make this happen. Oh yeah, and while it took our CEO buying a blackberry to make it happen, he also wrote the code over the weekend to make it work.

Full press release in the extended entry.

Topix.net Local News Goes Mobile with Topix.net/ZIP

Topix.net Rolls Out First Nationwide Local News for Mobile Devices

PALO ALTO, CALIF -- July 20, 2006 -- Topix.net today announced the release of Topix.net/ZIP, the first and only service where users can access local news for the entire country through their handset. The Topix.net/ZIP service is the most comprehensive and fastest news service for mobile devices, delivering headlines, summaries and photos for every ZIP code in the US.

Topix.net/ZIP makes it easier than ever for people to find local news on their mobile device. By simply entering in www.topix.net/ZIP (where ZIP is their ZIP code -- ex. www.topix.net/94303 for Palo Alto, Ca news) on any device, users are immediately presented the local news for their ZIP code. Topix.net's news search services are also supported by the new service.

The mobile devices supported by Topix.net/ZIP service include BlackBerry, Palm Treo, PalmOS phones, Windows CE, AvantGo, SonyEricsson, Symbian, Nokia along with many others, as well as all standard web browsers. As with the Topix.net web site, each of the headlines, summaries and photos presented by Topix.net/ZIP are links to third party news sites where, when clicked, the full article is made available. The Topix.net/ZIP services includes links from the over 50,000 main stream news sources and blogs crawled by Topix.net.

"Putting local news in the palm of your hand, by supporting mobile devices, was a natural next step for us, and we saw no one else doing it", said Rich Skrenta, CEO of Topix.net. "No one else gives you the headlines and summaries optimized for your mobile phone, and we're excited to be launching the best news service for local devices that's out there right now".

With the addition of Topix.net/ZIP, Topix.net is bringing not one, but 360,000 new channels of news to the mobile user, providing a dramatically better way for user to access the news and information important to where they live and what they care about, as well as introducing mobile users to bloggers and mainstream news sources that they might not be aware of on their own.

About Topix.net

Founded in 2002 with the specific mission of providing users with the ability to quickly and easily find targeted news on the Internet, Topix.net is a news aggregator with unique technology to find and categorize news into 360,000 topics, from Autos to ZIP code level local news. Topix.net distributes content via partnerships with top tier web properties including AOL, Earthlink, Ask, My Yahoo, Infospace and thousands of others.

July 11, 2006

The Publisher’s Unique Online Value Proposition

by at 5:01 PM

In recent posts I've discussed the economic issues with the current ad supported online publishing model, especially in comparison to search economics, and wondered what the future holds for the traditional media companies online.

Given that the current online publishing model has thus far not managed to make a meaningful contribution to the overall performance of most traditional publishers, it struck us that perhaps some new product thinking was required. Some background first though.

Search vs. Publishing

Advertisers love search -- that's the ad product that online publishers are now competing with. While search is certainly a great product for advertisers, it doesn't solve all their problems. We believe that the shortcomings of search are exactly the areas where traditional publishers excel:

  1. Serendipity. Search by definition is a lean forward experience -- an intent driven user acting on that intent. But that's a limited audience. Many customers become intent driven only after they've been given some info. "Oh, sweaters are on sale down the street? I didn't know that -- and I need a new sweater" This type of serendipitous experience/ event marketing is completely missing from search marketing.
  2. Location, location, location. Local advertisers advertise in their local paper as they know the readers are predominantly within their market. With search, there is no way to localize that activity - other than through unreliable IP sniffing - who knew Dulles, VA had so many residents? ;) With ZIP code level news, we believe that delivering local audiences is Topix.net's specialty, but other publishers do it as well.
  3. The 'everyday product dilemma': if you stock everyday products in your store, one way to differentiate yourself from competitors is to advertise price differentials. 'Diet coke 2 liters $.99'. But who Googles 'Diet Coke'? Who goes to a search engine to find out where they can get the best deal in their neighborhood on Diet Coke? No one. To get this message out, traditional publishing is needed.
  4. Branding: as the form factor for search ads is limited, so is the branding opportunity. Sure, there may be some value in the search 'view through', overall it is not a platform where a branded experience takes place.

The Results

So, with all that, we scratched our heads and thought of products we could deliver that would capitalize on the unique value a publisher brings to the advertiser.

Today, we are pleased to announce that, in cooperation with our sister company ShopLocal, we've taken a first step in trying to crack this code. The ad product, which can be seen here, here, or in 5,000 other local markets on our site, is a branded ad campaign that integrates product data in a geo-relevant contextual manner, and highlights specific product and sales information unique to each individual local store. Serendipity, branding, ordinary products, sales info, geo-targeted -- it's all there. And it's done in a way that is not intrusive or annoying, but rather adds value to the page. In other words, we believe this is both a great advertiser AND user experience. While Topix.net delivers an audience that is geo-targeted down to the ZIP code, perhaps we are uniquely situated for this particular unit. But we believe the idea can be translated to many audiences and many publishers.

We understand that in the general scheme of life, this innovation takes a back seat to the wheel, sliced bread, canned beer and many other things. But we do believe that in the world of the publishing industry, this type of ad unit is a major first step in highlighting where the traditional publisher's unique value proposition plays in the online world.

The full press release is in the extended entry below.


ShopLocal and Topix.net Combine Shopping and News to Help National Advertisers Reach Target Local Markets Online


CHICAGO, IL and PALO ALTO, CA  -- July 12, 2006 – ShopLocal, the leading provider of Web-to-store (W2S) and e-commerce marketing solutions for retailers, and Topix.net, the top nationwide local news site, today announced the launch of a new advertising platform—relevant sales circular inventory presented online to local audiences. These advertisements, in the form of content rich, dynamic Web banners, will connect local customers to ZIP code specific offers from retailers’ online circulars.  The combination of ShopLocal’s SmartMedia technology automatically versioning retailers’ content and Topix.net’s ability to serve that content to local consumers, provides advertisers with an easy to utilize resource for developing localized banner ads as well as a ready-made channel for local distribution.


“For years, ShopLocal has been committed to helping retailers reach local audiences on the Web,” said Brian Hand, ShopLocal’s CEO. “Now, through our SmartMedia technology and Topix.net’s ability to pinpoint local audiences, we’ve shrunk the Web down to size, allowing advertisers a simple way to market a very complex set of local offerings and increase their Web-to-store sales.”


Topix.net provides news aggregated from over 30,000 sources and tags stories by town or topic. This enables people to get their local news, nationwide, down to the ZIP code.  By partnering with ShopLocal, Topix.net can provide an online version of the sales circulars that consumers have had for years, and display offers on products available from retailers in their neighborhoods. Unlike search based solutions, online news sites like Topix.net provide a serendipitous connection to offers that consumers might not be explicitly searching for but are relevant to their location. 


“Getting people the news that’s relevant to them is the main purpose of what we do here at Topix.net, and that includes local sales and offers for the products you need everyday,” said Rich Skrenta, CEO of Topix.net. “Combing inventory and ShopLocal’s SmartMedia technology with our ability to find and connect with local audiences is a win for both advertisers and online consumers who are increasingly getting their news and information online”.


As of today, the new advertising platform is available to all nationwide local advertisers interested in increasing their Web-to-store (W2S) sales.  The first installment of this advertisement is featured on all Topix.net local news pages, for example www.topix.net/sf .  ShopLocal and Topix.net are related by investments from the Tribune Company and Gannett Inc.


About ShopLocal


ShopLocal, LLC (www.ShopLocalLLC.com) is the leading Web shopping company for consumers and retailers. With ShopLocal.com and The ShopLocal Network -- made up of more than 200 affiliate media, search, and shopping sites -- consumers have access to the only place on the Web with information on products from local stores side-by-side with e-commerce options. With ShopLocal’s SmartCircular and Smart Catalog services, retailers can distribute sales and promotional content through The ShopLocal Network as well as their own Web sites.


About Topix.net


Founded in 2002 with the specific mission of providing users with the ability to quickly and easily find targeted news on the Internet, Topix.net is a news aggregator with unique technology to find and categorize news into 360,000 topics, from Autos to ZIP code level local news. Topix.net distributes content via partnerships with top tier web properties including AOL, Earthlink, Ask, My Yahoo, Infospace and thousands of others.