News Aggregation Site Topix Employs Human Eyes

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The news-aggregation site Topix has developed software for filtering out spam and other junk from its message forums. To filter in the good postings, however, the site has turned to human volunteers.

Topix LLC is soliciting editors to oversee the forums covering every U.S. town and city. One or more volunteers from each of 32,500 localities will be in charge of marking the best messages and news items and perhaps writing their own articles on community happenings.

The idea is to tap the power of citizen journalists ? everyday Internet users who may write a quick message on a corner traffic accident or complain about delays in garbage collection. Some of that is happening in the forums now, but those posts get buried among the more mundane writeups.

That’s where the volunteer editors will come in. After undergoing an application process and screening by Topix staff, editors will be able to handpick their favorite items and move them to a blog-like section. All the other posts will remain elsewhere on the site, should someone really want to sift through them.

“We have 35,000 posts a day,” said Rich Skrenta, Topix’ co-founder and chief executive. “Let’s find the best of them here and let that person promote that to the news stream for the rest of us.”

He acknowledged user-generated news “is not fact-checked (or) edited and tends to be raw, in the words of the people posting it, but it comes in great quantity and it’s very current.”

Software will still try to identify the most relevant news items for areas without a volunteer editor.

Topix began as an aggregation site for news stories and represents one of several efforts aimed at helping people assemble news items from a variety of sources online rather than rely on a single media outlet, as was the case with the printed newspaper or a TV network’s evening news.

It currently collects news from 50,000 traditional news sites and blogs. Readers can browse through them by topic as well as by their city or ZIP code.

About a year ago, Topix began to allow visitors to post comments as well, and Skrenta said that feature has become a large traffic driver and has led to postings of original news ? not just commentary of news reported elsewhere.

That led Topix to begin thinking about ways to highlight the best, he said.

Rival sites like Digg and Time Warner Inc.’s Netscape let readers vote on what they like best, and news items receiving the most votes rise to the top. But Skrenta said that approach works primarily for national sites ? there aren’t enough readers in most communities to make that approach worthwhile.

Topix is a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company 75 percent controlled by Gannett Co., McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co.

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