Topix.net explains new mix

You may have noticed that the new Topix.net has had some unusual stories leading it this week -- more crime and celebrity than the stories usually leading news sites and Google News. That's intentional -- to differentiate Topix from the competition, and, interestingly, try to spot national-quality stories before they hit the national media. Topix.net CEO Rich Skrenta tell CyberJournalist.net a little more about how the site's new algorithms work:

Baseline Topix.net NewsRank looks at the top stories, biggest to smallest in the last 24 hour period, as evidenced by our technology's assessment of the amount of "interest" in the story from the full news sphere. This goes beyond a simple count of the number of sources reporting a story; an AP story might show up on 70 sites identically and be of low interest, whereas a regional story might be on 10 sites but be of major interst.

To this we apply a set of up/down biases based on our category determinatins for the story. Celebs, crime, lurid, health are all positive; business is a minus; sports is kept on the Sports section on our site, with the exception of the Olympics, and so on.

So, for instance, we'd rather see "Dog pulls local man from burning house" instead of "Congress delays vote on tax bill" chosen. The latter might be a safer bet to "look like" a news site, but we want the less commodoitized, slightly more lurid story to be chosen. The tax bill story will be on every major news site -- and I'm sure we'll have it too -- but in choosing what to promote on the homepage, if all we do is duplicate the top 10 stories everyone else is coming up with, we're not really adding anything new.

The oddest thing about the way the page works to the initial user is that it will find and promote regional stories that it likes, from regional sources, before they've been picked up by the broader press.

Since these have been written for a local audience, they often read awkwardly at the national level. In other words, before CNN or another national source would typically run the dog story, they'd change the wording from "Dog pulls local man from burning house" to "Dog pulls Virginia man from burning house". It's sometimes a little disorienting to be reading locally-focused stories that are being presented as if they were of national interest on Topix.net. We think the news merits of what our algorithms are finding outweight this effect though.

We could wait until the story broke nationally -- if that happens -- but think sending national audiences quickly into interesting happens at the local level is more lively and interesting.

As always, however, our technology and thinking about the best way to tune the home page mix are evolving over time. If you (speaking as a journalist & media expert) have suggestions or feedback on what we're doing, we'd love to hear it. We think what we're doing with algorithmic editing is unique and extremely interesting, but it's an evolving system and by no means a static target.



1 comments about 'Topix.net explains new mix'

Where can I follow up for more information

Posted by dog story at September 24, 2004 8:03 PM

Post a comment

    Enter code to post:

Site Map