Topix Evolves: A Discussion With CEO Chris Tolles

News aggregation is being approached in every which way, driven by the long-tail possibilities of search optimization, and less and less local output from newspapers, TV and radio. The content creator sites, hyperlocal sites, blog aggregators and portals have also been aggressively pursuing aggregation of local content (including Fwix, which we profiled last week).

But where is Topix? The pioneering local news aggregator graced the pages of Wired soon after its launch in 2002. Indeed, its potential was deemed so great that Gannett, Tribune and Knight Ridder paid $60 million for it in 2005, expecting it to play a key role in the future of local news.

Since then, however, Topix has kept a relatively low profile. Most of its founders have moved on, and the site no longer represents the latest innovation in local search.

Yet, Topix lives on, and rather well, too. It aggregates content from 50,000 sources and publishes 20,000 local pages, and its usage is greater than ever with 9 million unique visitors, thanks to partnerships with such publishers as ESPN, AOL/MapQuest, Earthlink and others. Sixty percent of its traffic comes from destination and partner traffic, while 40 percent comes from SEO. The site also receives 125,000 comments a day.

While CEO Chris Tolles won’t confirm that the site is making a small profit, he says it earns enough to support a sales staff. There are also ad partnerships with AdSense, Yext, Trulia, SimplyHired and others.

To Tolles, a cofounder of the company who has been running it since 2007, the long-term challenge for Topix and other aggregator sites is to figure out what the ultimate product becomes. Aggregating news will never be enough, he says. “Local news is a great driver as a seed for online engagement, but it plateaus.”  Indeed, discussion — not news — is now driving the majority of the site’s traffic and engagement.

Angry Tea Party types and other passionate citizens play a big role in such commentary. People with a large stake in local issues — both big and small — are the ones driving the commentary,” says Tolles.  “It’s passion that drives things.”

Many of these people live in smaller communities outside the media mainstream, adds Tolles. Roughly 45 percent of the site’s usage comes from such communities, which typically don’t have daily newspapers. That makes Topix the substitute local news provider.

Ultimately, “success, for us, hinges upon getting people to the site via the Web and mobile” — which now represents 10 percent of usage “and a huge opportunity,” says Tolles. A good portion of that audience needs to become participants in the forums. We can “make money off of that set of interactions.”

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Virginia Hoge

    Let us all hope that Topix does not succeed! This is not an ethical company, far from it, and I can prove it.

    Something way funky is going on over at Topix.com!
    http://open.salon.com/blog/virginia888/2010/05/18/something_way_funky_is_going_on_over_at_topixcom

    excerpt:
    “Topix practices a form of censorship called “shadow-banning”. A commentator will be blocked from the forums, without any contact or warning notice email from the Topix company. They will then, continue to see on their computer, every comment they write posted to the forums. Unbeknownst to them, they are the only ones who can see these comments, every other Topix viewer does not see their comments. This programming dirty trick, can fool a banned commentator into commenting for months and months without realizing their writing is not being seen. I have been twice shadow-banned from Topix. The first time it took me over two weeks to discover it. I was lucky, it could have been months. Topix is also able to shadow-ban a single comment, the commentator sees it, no one else.”

  2. Virginia Hoge

    This is ludicrious: “Chris Tolles: “It’s passion that drives things.”

    Passion? facilitated trolling, censorship of liberals, bully-trolling and harassment. Topix is practicing manipulated opinion, nothing less.

    All of this “passion” is facilitating right-wing ideology, nothing less. This is not passion, this is forged.

  3. Jack Meioff

    I will make sure, when someone in my little town gets killed over this absolutely idiocity of a website, i will make sure i for one file a class action lawsuit against its creator and its relatives.

    People are going to die here because of what being allowed to be posted and under a false name at that, you either have the choice of re doing the site to only allow official email names or require real names.

    TOPIX has torn our town apart since it was created,

    My attorneys, Beecher and Goldstein will be sorting this out in U.S. district court….

  4. Brittany

    I am not going to go launching a personal attack on Chris Tolles because it is cowardly to do that and frankly that is the sort of thing that is allowed on Topix. All I will say is how would anyone feel if they lost a child or their job do to lies told and cyberbullying? Would you perspective change. Topix could be a good company but has chosen to not accept responsibility for anything. You have to put some real guidelines in place and do things such as moderation and registration. It would not solve everything but it would make it more difficult and if you eliminated unneeded, unused forums and focused on the ones with a lot of traffic and used true moderation you would have a very useful service where good decent people could post. Instead the site runs people off who want to comment on true new stories and is now nothing more than a hangout for trolls and sexual predators for the most part.

    Apparently there is a growing number of people tired of this company. I recently learned someone or perhaps more than one person has set up a website at http://toxictopix.webs.com . It is an interesting read to say the least.

  5. CNY

    I was unaware fo the enormity of the lives destroyed by Topix and its utter disregard for the fact it is nothing more than a cyber bullying website. The NEWS is irrelevant now because too many lives have been literally destroyed. There is no moderation and in my opinion the entire corporation and its employees are responsible and complicit. Someone WILL eventually take their own life over the cyber bullying on this site. Its just a matter of time.

    a link for a grassroots org to stop TOPIX in its tracks. pass it on PLEASE!
    http://toxictopix.webs.com/

  6. Michael J. McFadden

    I had posted actively on Topix without a problem for over two years: a total of roughly 350 posts, all of which were polite, informative, on-topic, sometimes fun. I posted on a particular topic, smoking and smoking bans, and knew enough about it that I generally defended my points well and came out pretty clearly on top in the debates.

    I had a potential “competing interest” in debating that subject since I’d written a book on the topic. I always used my real name and made sure to identify that interest in any new thread (as I will do here) in order to avoid charges that I was a “tobacco company plant” or somesuch. Most of my debate opponents of course were anonymous.

    Suddenly, about three years ago, I noticed people had stopped responding to my posts. Sure enough: I’d been shadow-banned. To make things even worse TOPIX evidently applied the ban retroactively, so my entire history of over 300 well-thought out postings were simply erased by a TOPIX version of Winston Smith.

    I have, very occasionally, gone back there under a different name to make particular post to an important news story, but I’ll never post there regularly again.

    Oh! You can see the extent of the shadow banning at TOPIX if you go to the Ohio smoking ban threads. Some of them are over 20,000 posts in length. HOWEVER… If you have a thread with 25,000 posts noted on the counter and then actually visit the thread you’ll find that the latest posts may actually be numbered in the 30,000s: literally thousands upon thousands of posts shadowbanned and only noticed if you look at the skipped numbers next to the postings.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  7. Chris

    It’s good to read Chris Tolles acknowledge that the forum participation is the driving force of behind the success of his site, it makes this petition that much more important:

    http://www.change.org/petitions/boycott-the-advertisers-on-topix-com-let-them-know-you-will-no-longer-do-business-with-them

  8. War Machine

    Topix is a worthless website they are nasty, sneaky and dirty ! They shadow banned me too, it took me about a week to figure it out. I noticed no one responded to my posts and that’s when I figured that the bastards banned me. I have posted under different names and my post are still blocked. I have been particularly nasty on topix so I’m not too surprised they banned me. Its the way the cowards went about it, no warnings, letting me see my posts on my computer thinking that everything is aaokay !! Fuck topix

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