We’re watching the launch of Topix.net, news site whose robots scrape thousands of American news media sites and aggregate and categorize the content for easy browsing by locality. We were initially skeptical of the venture, but have been impressed by what we’ve seen.
In fact, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, the local newspaper where Topix is based, called us for comment about it, and we told him that I think Topix probably produces a better news Web site for many localities than those localities own newspapers do. Earlier in the day, we had taken a half dozen US postal codes of places where we have lived, entered those codes into Topix, and compared the results against those towns’ newspaper Web sites. Unfortunately for the newspapers, Topix did a better job. Of course, none of those towns were large, but then the average US newspaper isn’t in a large town. (Among the 1,400 daily newspapers published in the US, some 1,200 have less thanb 50,000 daily circulation.) The New York Times or Chicago Tribune might do better in New York City or Chicago, but Topix beat most average-sized US newspapers.
One of the advantages Topix has is it gather content from multiple media companies. For example, a newspaper’s Web site has content primarily from its print edition, while Topix has content from that newspaper, other newspapers that might cover the same town, and all the TV and radio stations and business journals covering that town. It could be a formidable competitor.
The major disadvantage Topix faces is in marketing. It’s easy for a daily newspaper to market itself in its own community, but not so easy for Topix to do so. A conversation today with Topix VP of Business Affairs Michael Markson gave us an overview of its marketing, business, and growth strategies and were surprised by what we learned but we’ll leave details of that for our newsletter.
We also learned, although not from Topix itself, that the company sees its major competitor not as the newspaper industry, but the potential of Google news providing local services.
We’re aware of Adrian Holovaty‘s comments about Topix’s Terms of Service, but agree with Terry Steichen‘s conclusions there about it.