December 12, 2006

Happy Birthday, Topix forums!

by at 10:18 AM

One year ago today, we pulled the trigger on our first foray into the world of online community. Looking at the stats, there’s a lot to celebrate:

- over 3.2 million posts to date
- over 20,000 posts daily (and still climbing)
- syndication on Tribune and Gannett sites

Looking back, it’s hard to believe now how lukewarm the first couple of weeks were. A few posts here, a few posts there, but nothing to get excited about. It was that same feeling you get when you’re the first to arrive at an empty party (i.e. “this is lame let’s get outta here.) There just wasn’t enough critical mass -- and building critical mass was going to take too much time, we thought. Other successful forums in our ‘hood like Craigslist had an eight-year head start. We didn’t have eight years.

Then we decided to do something that seemed crazy.

We’d been preaching to news partners that site-registration was a horrible traffic impedance if a reader could get the same news articles on Yahoo with a single click. Yet we were now paradoxically championing a reg process on our own site, believing that it was an important filter for maintaining quality. So we took down registration.

The effect is chronicled here, in a post called the Ni-Chan Paradox, and you can see the result in the graph below: It is still working.


So why -- after a year of success with anonymous postings -- are we talking about registration again? Well, we have a small confession to make. See, registration never truly went away. Instead of mothballing the code, we hid the sign-in pages and made them very difficult to find.

And something unexpected happened:

Not too long ago, a handful of our users managed to find the sign-up page and decided to register. Why would they do this? Because by signing up, registered users were able to lock-down their names, and to get the date that they joined associated with each of their posts.. That’s pretty much it. Doesn’t sound like much, but these were not your average fly-by forums users. Some had hundreds of posts on a wide range of subjects. They were invested, and they wanted more out of their time on Topix. They wanted something to show for it, and to learn a bit more about who they’ve been talking with.

So on the 1st anniversary of the forums, we’re proud to announce our new User Profiles feature. We think it captures the essence of what our forum users want to share with their online friends (and adversaries :-). It’s got a private history tracker that links back to the pages you’ve visited, as well as a public list of your interests that you can create and share with the others on Topix. And of course, it’s totally optional – you can still post anonymously on the forums (even if you’re logged in).

We already have thousands of registered users in only our first few days. Here are some samples:

Eye in the Sky

We’ll be working on these over the next few months here and there, so post your feedback and let us know what you think.