Topix.net Launches

Topix.net, a news aggregator site, officially launched Monday with 150,000 topical news pages featuring stories from 3,600 online sources — and with ambitions of attracting local advertisers.

The site has a categorization engine that determines what news story fits each locality and then assembles the stories on pages specific to that location. The site also categorizes the stories by subject. Topix.net offers RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds for all of its pages, though it does not currently offer ads in the feeds. The site is similar to news aggregators like Google’s, MSN’s or Yahoo’s, but it takes the concept to the local level.

The local categorization feature capitalizes on the recent excitement about local search, though it is not local search, strictly speaking. Many paid search players and Internet yellow pages companies are currently working to capitalize on local search, which is thought to be the next big driver of growth.

“This is a way for a small business in a small town to make sure its ads are being read only by customers in their area,” said Michael Markson, the company’s VP of business affairs.

Topix.net gathers news via RSS and XML feeds, but it also scrapes HTML pages. The HTML news comes from a variety of sources, including college newspapers, police blotters, OSHA reports and Coast Guard reports.

The left-hand side of the Topix homepage has links to approximately 30,000 cities and towns in the United States. Clicking on, for example, “Gainesville, Florida,” leads to a page with headlines, short summaries and links to local stories and area news. Embedded in this content are ad categories such as “Best-Sellers for Gainesville, Florida,” with links to Amazon. The right-hand side of the page features Google AdSense sponsored links to Gainesville businesses. Google’s AdWords program is beta testing a feature that lets advertisers target their listings by region.

Though small businesses have been notoriously difficult to bring online, Topix.net believes it will overcome the hurdles.

“We’ll reach small businesses thorough grassroots promotion,” said Markson. “If people find us on the Net, we have a quick easy turnkey way for them to throw an ad on with just a phone number.

“Ever since the soft launch Jan. 12, we have gotten local requests every day,” Markson said, pointing to TechLINKS.net, a newsletter for Georgia’s technology community that approached Topix.net because, Markson said, it only wanted to reach Georgians.

Topix.net’s executive management team includes three of the founders of the Open Directory Project, currently the source for the Google directory, including Rich Skrenta, chief executive officer of Topix.net.

The company has four revenue streams, according to Markson. First, the Google AdSense local sponsored listings; second, conventional banner and skyscraper ads; third, paid sponsorships and finally, RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, feeds.

“If you go to our CIO news page, ITM Software is sponsoring that page. They own that page and no other company’s ads appear on it,” Markson said.

With 150,000 pages available for syndication, Topix.net claims to be the largest RSS news feed provider in the world, though it is by no means the only online entity offering a large number of feeds.

RSS feeds of many of the Topix.net news pages are available for free. It’s also possible to get a custom RSS feed, Markson said. “We can read and extract HTML. If a particular site does not offer RSS we can crawl that site, put it up on our site and offer it ourselves through a feed,” Markson explained. The company will also put together custom packages of feeds from specific sites, he said.

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