August 29, 2006

Ode to an Intern

by at 5:10 PM

It ain't easy being an engineering intern. One minute, you're at school, standing in the quad on a beautiful sunny day, throwing the frisbee and quaffing a cold one, and the next... you're in a fluorescent-lit jungle of cubicles with a warm diet Coke in one hand, and cold, ergonomic mouse in the other. You've got only a couple of weeks to figure out how things work, and everyone expects you to do things that your prof didn't cover in CS 399. On top of all that, you've got to figure out how to work with all types of characters that remind you of the freaky physics teacher you had in high-school. The months go by in a flash, and then suddenly it's time to go back to school. And that's when you realize that this is what the real world is going to be like when you graduate. Unless, of course, you're an intern at Topix. Because we have a hotdog machine.

And nowhere in the real world has free hot dogs.

Nowhere.

Anyhow, this summer we decided to hire our first intern. It all started several months ago while we were looking for engineers to join the crew. We put a lot of miles on the Topix company ride, hitting the job fairs both near and far.

dafna.jpgAnd then we got lucky -- We found an awesome intern. Not only was she was able to come up to speed, learn all kinds of new things, and ship her first product/feature to millions of Topix users world-wide -- she was also really cool! She's the brains behind the "Did you mean" spelling feature in our spankin' new search results. So if ur 1 ov thos peeps who cant spel then this feeture is 4 U. We think its great... especially since our site-stats indicate that most of you spell as poorly as some of us do.

Who is this fantastic intern? We're almost afraid to mention her name for fear that someone will steal her from us and she won't come back next year. But, we do want to give her credit for everything she's done, so we'll just have to take that chance. Her name is Dafna.

There we've said it.

Hopefully she'll want to come back and join us again next year, and maybe bring along a few friends as well. We'd be lucky and honored to have her.

Thanks Dafna. Good luck in your junior year! And if you need help with your homework (unlikely), you have all of our home phone numbers. :-)

August 11, 2006

Design Force

by at 1:09 PM

Our latest redesign has been out for a week now, and we're really excited about the coverage and feedback we've been receiving.

Users seem happy, finding the look crisper and easier to navigate. Blog and mainstream media coverage has been solid and positive. But overall, we think that TechCrunch seems to have captured the spirit of how the Topix crew feels about the release:

"Topix finally usable after relaunch" :-)

rob_mug.jpgAs the first of many changes to come, we owe a great deal to the vision and talent of our new Director of User Interface and Design, Robert Torres. Rob has a long and storied history both with Tribune and Knight-Ridder on-line properties, and was part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for online journalism in 2005. He'd been doing pro-bono work for us on some changes earlier this year, and we were lucky enough to snag him from Knight-Ridder a few months ago.

Rob says, "Redesign is a process, not an event. This is the maxim I’ve applied to UED for a long time, and its never been more relevant than here at Topix. I’m pleased with the changes we’ve made so far, and I’m looking forward to tackling some of the unique and difficult user experience issues our site presents."

We couldn't agree more, which is why we pretty much think he's the Chuck Norris of online-news interface design.

Now that Rob's raised the bar, he's got some unique problems to solve: How do we communicate 360,000 channels of news without overwhelming users? How can users easily traverse the top stories and still dive deep into full coverage when they want to know more? How do we integrate our burdgeoning forums system more tightly with respective news categories, and add more personal and editorial touches? How do we continue to improve on our new Search Product? How dow we give users more flexibility in viewing their news? The list is long, but that's what gets him (and us) rev'ed up. So we're psyched-up over the next round of changes that we've got queued up, which should be released... well, just keep checking the site.

So if you've been following us for the last couple of years, enjoy this little trip down memory lane -- and drop us a comment and let us know what you think. (thanks, WayBackMachine!)

2004

2005

Oh, and Topix is hiring -- so if you're a coder that would like to work with a black-belt in online news design, drop us a line - we'd love to talk with you (jobs at topix dot net)

August 7, 2006

Biggest Index, Most Sources, Best News Search – Our Dial Goes to 11

by tolles at 9:28 AM

We've just launched a totally new version of the Topix.net News Search - adding an index of news and blog results going back over a year, and providing a click-o-gram (interactive histogram) of news results giving people a view from the past few minutes all the way back to over a year ago. Also, for the true search geek, we're giving you case sensitive search on those results - enabling searches for news about "IT" that were not previously possible. This is all on top our 50,000 sources of main stream news and blogs, and providing news not only about national topics, but local stories for 50,000 cities and towns across the world.

You can't get this across the street. :-)

There are a couple of "first on the net" here - You can't get more than 30 days or so of general news results anywhere except paid services, and if you're looking to know what's going on with a topic you care about, we think adding a year of results is pretty cool. Likewise, no one else out there provides a histogram of results for a year. And our histogram is interactive - a click-o-gram - where you can navigate to the dates in question and look back to a spike of stories about what you care about.

Also, if you want to search for what it takes on the SAT on the way to MIT for a gig in IT, you're going to love the case-sensitive search. Try bush -Bush to search for shrubs but not George W. (The case folding rules are: all lowercase matches anything, capitalized matches capitalized or all caps, and all caps matches only all caps.)

Great Place to Launch a Search Product

In a bit of self imposed deadline, we wanted our new news search to go live by, well, today. Search Engine Strategies, San Jose (link to http://www.searchenginestrategies.com/sew/summer06/) starts today, and I'm on a panel (http://www.searchenginestrategies.com/sew/summer06/agenda2.html#330-4) August 8th about the news and blog search engines. (Come on by and say "hi" if you're down there) We wanted to throw down so we had something to say at the show, and this is it.

Also, we had the privilege of having Danny Sullivan in last Thursday. We've know Danny since we were running dmoz.org (link to dmoz.org), and participated in the first Search Engine Strategies conference in San Francisco. He's remained the dean of search analysts, and talking to him about what'd going on in the world of search, media and advertising was a lot of fun.

Anyway, have at it - and tell us what you think.

August 3, 2006

The Walmart of Community

by at 12:32 AM

At the end of March, we posted about the effects of removing registration from our forums and the "Ni-Chan Paradox ". But to be honest, at the time we weren't sure if it was just a phase of early growth, or if the trend would continue.

It has:

growth-forums.jpg

The number of daily forum posts has more-than-doubled since we last reported -- now averaging over 12,000 per day. We also passed our 1,000,000th post milestone just a couple of weeks ago. For a system that's only 6 months old, we like the shape of this curve.

From it's inception, Topix has been about the long-tail. When you want to find a news page about Floyd Landis, Mel Gibson, Honda CRVs, or Oklahoma Sooners Football, we've got a news page and a forum for you.

And the same is true for local news. Whether it's big metros like Baltimore, Denver, and Seattle -- or smaller burgs like Topock AZ , Lenoir NC , and Columbia KY -- we've got you covered.

So we were pretty confident that the forums in small town USA would get at least a proportional level of traffic and posts as the big cities. What has floored us, however, is just how saturated some of these small town forums have become with discussion: For example, Columbia KY has 17,955 posts. The town's population is only 4,014 . That's more than 4 posts for every man, woman, child in Columbia.

That's 447% saturation!

Now, not all towns have this level of local discussion. For example; Caruthersville MO (pop: 6,470) is trailing at 117% saturation, while Nederland TX (pop 17,422) is stuck at 56.5%. Spring Hill TN is 55.7%. Bentonville AR is straggling at 18.8%.

Bentonville, AR. Home of Walmart? The big-box super-store that got its start by concentrating on the hamlets of small-town america -- and consequently un-noticed by competition until the juggernaut had become so vast it was unstoppable?

This reminds us of... something :-)