Topix went beyond aggregation today by launching the ability for local news readers to post or comment upon stories. CEO Rich Skrenta describes the business model transformation where they took more risk to turn SEO attention into participation -- sharing control to create value.
I wont nitpick on how apt the Wikipedia analogy is, or agree that algorithms love vacuums. Topix is taking a unique approach to offload the burden of moderating zipcode contributions that could work and scale. Rafat Ali comments:
I have talked in the past about Topix’s “rut of low visibility”, and this is a risky yet ambitious attempt to redefine the site. Competition is heavy; managing and evaluating user contributions, and keeping signal-to-noise ratio high will be a challenge, but Topix intends to use a mix of human plus software intelligence for it.
You may know that Topix gobbled up some great funding from strategic media investors, one of the smarter moves I've seen made by the industry on the wane. You see, Topix is doing what newspapers should be doing.
While the economics of print have predicted the death of it for decades, and the recent decimation of classified revenue has print in a panic -- newspapers have only made token moves in defense. Setting up RSS feeds and a blog or two won't bail you out. And they are missing the larger opportunity.
Invest in social media where coverage is too costly. This is the simple rule of thumb to turn threat into opportunity for media companies. If you are a national newspaper, enable local communities to cultivate news. If you are a local paper, feed on the local interest in national news. Focused only on print, have users generate the TV studio. This is a period to pilot expansion into new areas.
Popular attention is on portals buying social media startups. Partially because they get the technology and promise, but also because they are disrupting established media over time. Media companies probably only focused on if they could buy or build Craigslist with great disappointment. Those cash reserves and great brands are standing still.
How long will it be until one of Topix' strategic investors scoops them up? Until the Washington Post buys Technorati? Until McClatchy (KnightRidder rollup) clutches SixApart? The Tribune (did a buyout today) gives tribute to memeorandum? McGraw-Hill edits Wikia? AP sends a wire to Digg?