Tag Archives: Topix

Misconception About Widespead RSS Use By Traditional Online Publishers

Earleir this month, Rich Skrenta of Topix.net wrote about the misconception about how widespead RSS syndication is among traditional online publishers.

    “Only 7% of the sources Topix.net crawls have XML feeds. I’d estimate that only a few hundreds of the top 3,000 newspapers we crawl have RSS support. The rest we obtain with a news crawler which is good about finding articles on news sites, leaving behind the ads and navigation sidebars. It’s low maintenance so we don’t have to change anything everytime a site redesigns its html.

    “Even for sites which offer feeds, we’ll generally continue to crawl the human-readable version. We’ve seen sites where the RSS broke but no one at the paper seemed to notice, or cases where the RSS was out of sync with the human-viewable web content. By crawling both we get full coverage of the content available.

    “There are approximately 1,400 weekly newspapers in the US, and over 2,600 weeklies. There are around 3,000 magazines, and thousands of radio and TV station websites. Not to mention the city government websites we crawl looking for local announcements.

    “Despite the enthusiasm around RSS, there is a long way to go before the bulk of this content will be available in feeds.”

Crawling for Local News

Last week, I wrote about Topix.net, which spiders more than 3,000 other local news sites, then lets users enter their local ZIP codes and see a page showing all local news from all local media. The San Jose Mercury News quoted me:

    Vin Crosbie, a Connecticut media consultant, said his tests of Topix often produced more interesting lists of stories than local newspaper Web sites, in part because it gathers news from so many sources.

    “I think there would be an interest in this, ”Crosbie said, “and I think if you can provide somebody with a quick one-screen view of what’s happening, there’s a market for this. They don’t have a local flavor, but if there’s enough local news, they don’t need that.”

Just to verify what I meant, here is a comparison of the local news page of my town’s newspaper against Topix’s for the same locale. Topix provides the same stories plus more.

Another site that may be going in the same direction is Google’s local search beta test, which lets its users search topics according to U.S. street address, city, state, or ZIP code. It’s primarily a directory site and doesn’t yet carry local news, and Google’s executives aren’t saying if they plan that. But it wouldn’t be hard for Google to do that; its main news site already spiders more than 4,500 news sources, much like Topix.

Topix Launches

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.