Topix is the world’s largest community-news Web site, providing localized content not easily found anywhere else on the Web. You can read, talk about, and even edit the news on Topix pages covering over 360,000 different localities and topics.
There are plenty of places to get your news online, but how many provide news specific to you and your neighborhood? NYTimes.com probably won’t tell you about the youngster from the middle school down the block who won a community achievement award. Chances are that CNN.com isn’t covering the broken traffic light that’s causing gridlock at your town’s main intersection. Topix.com puts the local news at your fingertips, giving you privileged access to read, discuss, and write about the news that matters to you the most. If you’re especially passionate about your community, you can volunteer to become a local Topix editor and help make your town’s page the best it can be.
Topix began in 2004 as a news aggregation engine but didn’t really take off until the introduction of forums where visitors could talk about the news as well. Founded by the same people who founded Open Directory, Topix adopted Open Directory’s philosophy of relinquishing site control to the users, allowing them to edit, submit, and talk about the news as they please.
The site collects news from 50,000 sources, ranging from traditional news outlets to blogs, and finds stories that specifically pertain to over 32,500 U.S. localities and some international locations. In addition to covering neighborhoods, Topix also has pages devoted to celebrities, sports teams, industries, health & drugs, publicly traded companies, and much more—in fact, there are over 360,000 topics. Becoming a member gives you a mini-profile where you can introduce yourself to the community and list your favorite Topix pages.
Topix customizes the homepage to your neighborhood by deriving your location either from your IP address or the ZIP code you typed into the search box. The resulting personalized homepage lists the most recent local news stories and discussion threads; in addition, there is a dynamically updated row of icons displaying recent Topix-member activities in the forums and news pages.
The news on your personalized page is presented in blog format, with archives you can search by month or through the calendar box on the right-hand side of the page. Once you click on a story, you’re taken to a separate page linking you to its original source. Every once in a while a link shows up dead, but usually you’re taken directly to the original source or given a link to an alternate source reporting on the same topic.
Topix brings you news about your community that you would have to dig deep into your city newspaper (print or online) to find. This is especially useful for smaller towns overshadowed by neighboring big cities. You can also dig deeper into your community by searching for specific topics within the stories index for your town. If you want to branch out beyond your town’s limits, you can search different topics, different cities, or all the articles indexed on Topix in the News Wire. You can also browse through the directories via the Shortcuts link at the top of the page, the Site Map link at the bottom of the page, or visit the directory at topix.com/dir, which breaks down the topics covered on the site into categories and subcategories for quick, easy browsing
You Are the Editor
Anyone can contribute to Topix by submitting a URL, writing a story, or e-mailing stories and photos by phone to [zipcode]@topix.com. Topix’s RoboBlogger automatically seeks out relevant news and updates your town’s page as needed. Browsing through local stories is cool, but if you’ve got even a little of the journalist or blogger in you, the real fun of Topix is in being an editor and controlling your own page. To become an editor, you must first become a registered member and then click on the Become an Editor link, included on the right side of the homepage and news blog pages. From there you fill out a form telling Topix why you should be a Topix editor. If Topix decides you’ve got the right stuff, it awards you editor status, and a red drop-down menu featuring your editor tools will appear next to the shortcuts menu the next time you log on. Multiple editors can edit the page of single town or topic, and a single editor can edit many pages. But you have to apply separately for each page you want to edit.
As an editor, you get exclusive access to tools that help you add content to your page. First, you can add stories from the News Wire, which indexes all stories prefiltered by Topix. Next, you can get hot leads through the Tip Line informing you of breaking news happening in your community. Finally, if you come across news that’s worthy of comment in the Topix forums, you have the ability to promote it to a news story. As an editor, you can also survey your page, killing stories irrelevant to your town or topic and editing existing stories as you see fit. But you can’t edit or kill another editor’s stories.
There’s no time commitment required of editors; you can post as much or as little as you want, and RoboBlogger will handle the rest of the news. Topix editors also have access to the Topix Editor’s Blog, where the over 15,000 Topix editors congregate to share tips and tutorials to help each other become better editors.
Though the forums probably made Topix as popular as it is today, they’re not perfect. Specialized, moderated boards can be very powerful tools, but massive boards can also struggle with bouts of intolerant, offensive posts that are hard to limit without resorting to equally unpleasant measures of censorship. Topix says it has algorithms and human monitors in place to weed out content that violates its terms of service, but there’s still plenty of objectionable content. According to Topix, however, over a million posters have posted over 10 million comments in its forums, so it seems that most users enjoy this free-speech free-for-all.
That translates into a lot of great content. Topix has discussion boards dedicated to all its news items and topic pages. You can view the discussion thread for a particular story or view the forums for a particular town or topic. These forums let users start threads relevant to the forum’s topic and discuss it among themselves. Anyone can post on the boards, but registered members’ posts are highlighted in green with an accompanying avatar, so they stand out from the rest. Check out what topics are buzzing by clicking on the Most Popular link in the shortcuts menu. The Most Popular page lists recent news articles that are generating the most discussion in the Topix forums.
Topix provides users with content not easily found anywhere on the Web. The access to local news content and the ability to interact with the news by personalizing it to your interest, discussing it with the Topix community, or editing it yourself makes the site an invaluable news resource. But to take full advantage, you have to become a Topix editor and make sure that your community gets the spotlight it deserves.
Topix puts the power of the media in your hands. It provides you with quality local news content the big players don’t deliver, along with the ability to read, discuss, and edit news pages yourself.
Local news content not easily found elsewhere. Ability to become a Topix editor and manage your hometown page. Lots of usually relevant content. Lets you chat about the news with neighbors and other members of the Topix community.
Forums peppered with objectionable content.