Topix Launches

We’re watching the launch of, 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.

One Reply to “Topix Launches”

  1. This new site presents another example of the interesting dilemma faced by “traditional” news media with online presence:

    — You want incremental traffic to articles and headline pages that comes from search engines’ spider-collected indexes of your sites.

    — You don’t want to pay for that traffic, therefore you permit and even encourage spidering.

    — Those sites that spidered you can build indexes of their link/capsule databases that are more useful and inviting than your own news indexes, because they include not just your articles but others from many other sources.

    — Those sites can also sell query- and context-targeted advertising on the indexes and search results pages better than you can because they generate so many more results displays.

    — Those sites therefore can capitalize more on a tiny capsule of one of your articles than you can on the whole article and all rights to it.

    — Your only alternative is to forbid spidering of your content, which is fine if your site contains well more than half exclusive news reports, in categories for which you provide unique value to a large enough audience to go it alone.

    — Even if you can do that, how do you get people to your site? Well, you could pay those same searcher/indexer sites for keyword or contextual ad placement …

    Oh, wait, I think I just hit an infinite loop.

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