Topix.net: Where Local News Rules

Topix, a new web-based news service, launched this week and was promptly TechDirted and Metafiltered. Created by a cadre of ex-AOL Shopping/Netscape Search engineers, who also–not incidentally–were core members of the team launched the Open Directory Project back in 1998, Topix automatically generates over 150,000 keyword based news pages, each loading automatically with chronologically ordered news sources.
Similar to Google News in many respects, Topix is built on a detailed, custom taxonomy that classifies every story according to content type and geographic location. Focusing on 4,000 news sources (including a few blogs).Topix offers users the ability to track updated news on very specific terms;the more localized, the better.
One way to take a look at what Topix offers compared to Google News is to run two different queries and check results.
First, Britney Spears, one of the top ten search terms of 2003. The top story this morning on Topix.net’s Britney Spears page is from the Detroit Free Press and is entitled Stop Britney Before She Goes Too Far ; the next story is from KSAN, a local news station, and is about Britney’s new video.
Google New’s Britney page , in contrast, leads with Canadian site Chart Attack’s story Britney Spears Brings Her Darkest Secrets to Canada , one of many about an upcoming concert tour. The top story doesn’t even show up on Google New’s results list for Britney news.
Next, let’s run a search for a particular place–South Orange, New Jersey, where I lived on the East Coast. The Topix.net page has eight stories drawn from local news sources and run in the past 20 hours. While none of them are specifically about South Orange, they are about events happening within a 5-mile radius, and therefore, of interest.
The Google News page has 15 stories, none of which are from today, and several of which focus on Seton Hall’s college sports competitions. Only one story, running in the New York Times on Dec. 25th, is specifically focused on a South Orange topic.
There’s no question that while the Britney query results on Google have more sizzle, the local town search on Topix has far more relevance than the Google page. One of the key differences is that Google New’s search algorithms are keyword driven, offering up the most relevant instances including a specific term. Topix.net’ss keywords, on the other hand, are mapped to both content type and geolocation, allowing the service to weight results in a different way.
When Google launched back in the day, users had to learn the different between a relevance-driven search algorithm and an edited directory, it will be interesting to see how users distinguish between Google News and Topix-generated news pages.
Summary: One of the best and most interesting launched I’ve seen in a while, but they need to put the pedal to the metal in terms of improved user features, navigation, alerts, and RSS/newsreader feeds to fulfill their potential and gain a substantial user base.
Also, early indications are that–like about.com–Google results will be an important entry point for them for topic-driven search queries. See Social Software News and Drink Wine for examples of the kinds of pages Google is likely to discover.
Note: I did an interview with CEO Rich Skrenta yesterday, which I will blog later today–more details on the search algorithm and the business plan to come in that piece.