Why Topix Is Different: Toward A Sustainable Model For Net Media Companies

Last Friday I had a chance to stop by the Palo Alto offices of Topix, in many ways a classic internet start up – Valley-based, run by a serial entrepreneur, good buzz – but it didn’t take long for me to sense that something was different this time. Before I…

richsLast Friday I had a chance to stop by the Palo Alto offices of Topix, in many ways a classic internet start up – Valley-based, run by a serial entrepreneur, good buzz – but it didn’t take long for me to sense that something was different this time. Before I get into that, let me first give you a few thoughts on the service itself, and the broader role it plays in the search business.

Background: Topix was founded by six guys, four of whom went to high school together in Pittsburgh. No, I’m not making that up. Most of them are IT/Valley vets, CEO Rich Skrenta founded NewHoo and sold it to Netscape a mere six months afterwards, then morphed it into the now famous Open Directory Project. But Netscape was sold to AOL, and after a while Rich got bored (I assume) and left with the intent of starting a company he could “work into my 40s on.” I like the sound of that.

Topix is an internet media play. More specifically, it’s a local advertising media play. The service takes a crawl-and-index approach to a vast array of internet news sources, then runs the resultant stew through a metadata engine which tags every news story with location and subject data. Topix then builds more than 150,000 topic- and location-specific pages, pages that live comfortably between the great gunky mass of search results, on the one hand, and the impersonal morass of most news sites on the other.

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Semel Gets His Fortune Profile

Long profile of Yahoo CEO Terry Semel with integrated Yahoo back story and prediction that Yahoo will make it to the Fortune 500 list in five years or less. One intersting note: Yahoo used to be driven by the engineers, but has outgrown that approach. Sound familiar? I believe the…

semelLong profile of Yahoo CEO Terry Semel with integrated Yahoo back story and prediction that Yahoo will make it to the Fortune 500 list in five years or less. One intersting note: Yahoo used to be driven by the engineers, but has outgrown that approach. Sound familiar?

I believe the article may be behind a sub wall, if so, here are a few excerpts:

“Everyone talks about what he did with movies and entertainment,” Yang says, “but what he really did was pioneer how to take a piece of content and get it out there. He has a distribution mentality, which at the end of the day is what Yahoo does on the Internet. And so when we started talking about Yahoo generically as a distribution company, we both just went, ‘Gosh, this is going to be really cool.’ “…

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Google Says: Check Under Our Hood (Personalized Search, et al)

Google's got a refined look, and it's rolling out a Labs approach to personalized search. The approach is distinct, it requires a lot of input from the user. It's the result, I believe, of an integration with the Kaltix technology Google bought last year. The company, in a press release,…

google_kaltix_resultsGoogle’s got a refined look, and it’s rolling out a Labs approach to personalized search. The approach is distinct, it requires a lot of input from the user. It’s the result, I believe, of an integration with the Kaltix technology Google bought last year. The company, in a press release, calls their personalized search “revolutionary.” We’ll see. The Labs implementation walks you through a step by step process which uses categories to refine and personalize your search, and uses a search for “Stanford” in the health category as the example. I changed it to “Berkeley” and got a message that “Personalized results not available for this query.” But I’m not *from* Stanford…

Google also released the ability to receive search results via email (called Google Web Alerts, a lot like Google News Alerts), and made a host of tweaks to its interface, most notably on the home page (the “tabs” are now links, check out the “more” link, and also the search box seems bigger, and there’s a line imploring you to “get more from Google” ); in Froogle, which now has it’s own spot on the home page and gets a redesign (new tagline, but it’s still in beta); and in news (incorporates thumbnails).

My first take: This is Google saying “Hey, folks, there’s a lot more to us than meets the eye. Come take a look, and get into a relationship with us.” More when I get back from morning rounds.

BTW, the Google Directory lost its place on the home page….

(full release in extended entry)

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Yahoo and Kelkoo

Remember when eBay went on a tear, buying auction sites all over the globe? Yahoo and search/shopping feels similar. Kelkoo, a private shopping site in Europe, sold to Yahoo for $576 million yesterday….

Remember when eBay went on a tear, buying auction sites all over the globe? Yahoo and search/shopping feels similar. Kelkoo, a private shopping site in Europe, sold to Yahoo for $576 million yesterday.

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MSFT Groks Technorati, Readies Blogbot

MSFT is claiming to be the first to focus on weblog search. I am sure the folks at Technorati , Feedster, Daypop, et al are curious to see what exactly they are talking about. MSFT, clearing puffing out its chest, also claims it will roll out its version of news…

msoft1MSFT is claiming to be the first to focus on weblog search. I am sure the folks at Technorati , Feedster, Daypop, et al are curious to see what exactly they are talking about.

MSFT, clearing puffing out its chest, also claims it will roll out its version of news (already in beta) and, at some point this decade, a natural language query engine. Uh huh.

Thanks, Gary.

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Mapquest Reverse Engineers Local Search

Used to be, you had your search, and you added the map/local angle. Well Mapquest has the maps, and now it's adding search. Gary reports that Mapquest has a local search beta up. Innaresting…Mapquest is an AOL company……

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Used to be, you had your search, and you added the map/local angle. Well Mapquest has the maps, and now it’s adding search. Gary reports that Mapquest has a local search beta up. Innaresting…Mapquest is an AOL company…

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New 2.0 Column: Mike Ramsay, TiVo

I enjoyed my conversation with Mike, since this interview, TiVo has announced new advertising products along the lines of what we discussed. TITANS OF TECH When the Network Meets the Net TiVo's Mike Ramsay wants to plug viewers into more than cable and satellite — and bets his digital…

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I enjoyed my conversation with Mike, since this interview, TiVo has announced new advertising products along the lines of what we discussed.

mikerTITANS OF TECH
When the Network Meets the Net
TiVo’s Mike Ramsay wants to plug viewers into more than cable and satellite — and bets his digital video recorder can make the connection.

By John Battelle, April 2004 Issue

TiVo (TIVO) is under siege. From Hollywood to Madison Avenue, the word itself is almost a curse. And those who aren’t muttering it are copying it. In the latter camp are most of the cable and satellite companies, which are mimicking TiVo’s groundbreaking digital video recorder — the Internet-era successor to the VCR that finds the TV programming you want, when you want it. Some 830,000 Time Warner (TWX), Comcast (CMCSK), and other cable subscribers now use cheap DVRs from Scientific-Atlanta (SFA), which has orders for hundreds of thousands more.

You’d think all of this would spook CEO Mike Ramsay. But Ramsay, a veteran of Silicon Graphics, is ready for the fight; he cheerfully mentions that TiVo has already battled Microsoft (MSFT) and won (Microsoft canceled UltimateTV, a competing DVR, in 2002). He’s bolstered TiVo’s subscriber ranks to 1.3 million with the help of DirecTV; half of them now come through the satellite-TV company. And he’s suing EchoStar, the other major satellite provider, for patent infringement.

Ramsay’s offensive plan is even more interesting. He’s trying to make friends on Madison Avenue by putting tiny video commercials, similar to movie trailers, in TiVo’s programming guide. (Fox and BMW are among the advertisers that have tried the new format.) Nielsen is adding TiVo viewers to its ratings panels. Despite the common wisdom that TiVo was toast, the little company based in Alviso, Calif., has thrived: Its stock has soared from a low of $4.50 a year ago to nearly $12 today.

In January, TiVo raised $74 million from big investors, and in February it cut prices on its entire DVR line. But Ramsay can’t outspend his cable competitors; he knows he’ll have to out-innovate them. In February he purchased secretive networking startups Strangeberry, whose engineers are working to take the DVR a step beyond, making its user-friendly interface the window into content downloaded over any wire, whether coaxial cable or high-speed Internet. Can Ramsay hook up broadcast and broadband? Expect TiVo to generate new business models, new forms of video content, new regulation, and a lot more controversy in the coming years. However it ends, we’ll be replaying this episode for years to come.

Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction was the latest in a string of high-profile “TiVo moments.” So why aren’t there more TiVos in the world? Are you the next Macintosh, with Comcast as Windows?

We have been conditioned over the last five years with the Internet that if something’s hot, it gets into millions of homes overnight. But until recently TiVo’s been expensive. It’s also a brand-new idea — and history tells us it takes time for the average consumer to get used to a new idea. It’s sort of like when the PC first came out.

TiVo is a hard-to-explain thing. When you first describe TiVo, people say, “Well, all right, that’s great, but isn’t that just like a VCR?” And you go, “Well, no, actually it’s not.” Then there’s a five-minute conversation. You can’t describe TiVo in 30 seconds. You need TiVo to describe TiVo. In the past we’ve gotten a lot of mileage and effectiveness out of PR and product placement, generating word of mouth. Today there’s a whole lot more elasticity. Bring the price down, sales go up. Get the word out, do more promotions, sales go up. In February we unveiled a $50 rebate. And you’ll see more of that going forward.

To protect their advertising and pay-per-view business, won’t cable companies create “TiVo lite” — DVRs that they control, in essence?

Yes, but they are motivated by satellite — they are scared that satellite is taking business away from them. And to the extent that satellite has embraced DVRs, they have to respond.

Is the 30-second spot dead, and is TiVo responsible?
(more via link below)

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Update

Sorry for the light posting day. I spent all day in meetings, and then an hour on an NPR program. There is lots to get caught up on, in time, I will. I met this morning with Rajeev Motwani, one of the professors who mentored Larry and Sergey during their…

Sorry for the light posting day. I spent all day in meetings, and then an hour on an NPR program. There is lots to get caught up on, in time, I will. I met this morning with Rajeev Motwani, one of the professors who mentored Larry and Sergey during their Stanford days. I then had lunch with a source who wishes to remain anonymous, but who shed a lot of light on the ongoing search and ecommerce wars. Then on to meet Rich Skrenta, whose latest creation is Topix. More on that in an upcoming post. Then the NPR show, “On Point,” which was, as one might expect, obsessed with Google obsession.

Lots of news over the past 24 hours, expect posts on that as well. And if you want the weekly newsletter, a reminder to sign up in the box at left.

Have a great weekend.

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