February 25, 2008

Vote Now. Vote Three Times. Be a Super Delegate for Topix

by amy at 12:14 PM

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We just found out Topix is a finalist for CNET’s Webware 100 awards in the Search and Reference category. There are 300 finalists, but there will be only 100 winners –- and we need your help!

Please vote for Topix. They tell us you can vote for up to 3 finalists in each category. But, hey, why not vote just for Topix? And tell your friends to vote.

The winners will be announced on April 21, the day before the Web 2.0 Expo opens.

February 22, 2008

What’s a 100,000 posts per day? A Damn Good Start.

by tolles at 11:00 AM

Yesterday, for the first time, we received over 100,000 comments into the Topix forums in a one day period. When we launched this, I told the engineering team that it would be amazing if got to 10,000 comments a day. So, I wanted to provide a shout out here for the folks that have made this happen.

Kicking ass

While commenting functionality and forums are hardly new, the fact that we have systems to auto-moderate, spam detect and scale to handle 100,000 posts per day, with forum threads of tens of thousands of posts, is a pretty neat trick. I don’t know of any other place on the web where this volume of posting occurs with the kind of functionality we provide. This is a great testament to the architecture and implementation that our engineers have put in here.

One of the most interesting aspects of running a place where millions of people interact is that you can get a good running start with algorithms and automated systems, but at the end of the day, we’ve found having people to look at the corner cases is critical for a healthy system. And keeping everything from going off the rails has been handled superbly from the folks here doing community management.

Boo!

When journalists wring their hands and fret over anonymous commentary, or decry the presence of the masses linked to the pages of newspapers, it betrays their belief system – that only journalists can decide what is “news”, and that society is running off the rails with this …commentary...gaining traction.

The Internet empowers true many-to-many communication. It is *not* just another distribution medium for the products of broadcast media. Sure, it’s a great way to connect to people all over the world, and it’s been amazing at destroying the business model that paid for all of that content. But, really, the next step here is to empower everyone to talk to everyone else.

At Topix, we’re interested in giving people the ability to connect to other folks in their community, or community of interest. With over 100,000 comments a day coming in, and with participation from over 20,000 different communities every month, I think we’re on to something.

Relax

We’re all for helping publishers and the main stream media get in on this – and we’re providing commentary for all the Tribune publications, Media News, and LinTV & NBC’s television stations, amongst others. Lots of publishers already get it, and I’m excited to see that people are beginning to understand the inevitability of commentary connected to main stream media products.

There’s an important role for journalism and journalists here – to investigate and write stories, to fact check and provide a level of comprehensiveness that just isn’t the role of the commentariat to provide. But the Internet is empowering the average guy to put their opinion out there as well, and to engage with other people. And for my money, getting people to engage with each other is the big prize here.

The future is much more involved with engaging people to participate than it is in merely informing them of one point of view. I love my Sunday NY Times, and I love the local columnists in the SF Chronicle. But I really like the fact that the Chronicle beats the pants off of the NY Times in terms of giving their readers the ability to comment and engage with each other.

We’re excited to be powering that future – and with 100,000 posts per day, we’re really picking up some speed.

February 7, 2008

Welcome to the Neighborhood, Google

by tolles at 10:06 AM

I woke up this morning with a call from one of my board members asking me if I had seen the news about Google's new local news product.

Gulp.

Silicon Valley CEO nightmare right out of central casting, right? In our case, Google launching a local news product that is targeted down to the ZIP code level, something we've had a lock on since 2004, and one of our clearest differentiators. There are lots of people who provide metro level "local" news, but we've been unique in being able to provide hyper-local news, and Google entering this space is certainly a big deal for us.

Fortunately, we had our wakeup call around local news a couple of years ago, and it wasn't the looming fear of Google launching local news which kept us up at night..it was something entirely different. Here's the dirty secret of doing aggregated news around local...

Local news is not a search problem

If you take the totality of news created from the mainstream press (newspapers, radio, television stations), and do the back of the napkin math for all the local stories generated on a daily basis, here's what you get

1,440 local daily papers X 6 stories a day = 8,640
2,303 news radio stations X 3 stories a day = 6,909
1,686 television stations X 4 stories a day = 6,744
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Total local stories per day 22,293
Number of populated US ZIP codes 32,500

We started by trying to add more sources. We added government, weather and industry sources, and then we added 25,000 blogs to the mix to see what we'd get. And, pretty much, they still didn't provide the breadth of coverage around local news, especially around small towns.

Don't like the news? Make some of your own!

The conclusion our users pointed us to, by sending us hundreds of stories a day through our feedback form, was that there wasn't enough coverage of most areas by the mainstream press or the blogsphere, and that the real opportunity was to become a place for people to publish commentary and stories -- because no one else was going to do it.

So, we launched the Topix forums, and two years and 25 million posts later, Topix has gone from being merely an aggregator of local news, to becoming the home of local voice on the web

60% of the "articles" on Topix are now "original", from scratch, posts not referring to a story
75% of the pageviews on Topix are on the commentary

So, with that shift, and those 25 million posts, we're actually a home for original content, and Google's main search engine is a great way to find that content. Also, for Google, there's a virtuous circle in sending people to places like the Topix forums -- some percentage of them end up participating and adding commentary, making the site better and "justifying" the algorithmical "decision" to send folks our way. We also added the ability for people to edit the news on Topix, and have over 3,500 editors. who are doing that on Topix so far.

Yes, it's always a concern when Google pops up on your patch. As Rich points out, we have great technology, more sources and four years of making this all work - but given the distribution that Google can bring to bear, what I'm really happy about is that we're more of a source, and therefore a natural partner to Google, than a sink for news searches and a competitor to them. Also, it doesn't hurt that the number one player on the web is validating that local is a place worth investment.

And, hey, Google -- if you ever decide that you'd like to add more content around localities (since we feel your pain around the lack of news in small towns), we have a couple of ideas for you...

UPDATE:

There was some great coverage of Topix after this came out.

Valleywag posted a nice OpEd that I wrote about competing with Google

John Battelle shows me why he's a world class editor with the title to his blog post being what I should have gone with

Webbalert gave us major props vs. Google as well, and a phat screenshot, which was cool

Webworkerdaily also had a good overview of the space, worth taking a look, as well

And, gotta love Informationweek's Thomas Claburn's referencing the pointy end of Rich's post.

Finally, got some props from Mike on our handling of things...