Rich Skrenta

Topix

Why Physical Location Matters
16 minutes, 7.3mb, recorded 2007-05-29
Rich Skrenta

Local newspapers are not in vogue any longer. They're either dying, or some of the very small towns do not have them at all. Topix.net is a local news aggregation website programmed a high degree of geo-sophistication that serves over 32,500 communities, many of which are very small towns, with local news by aggregating news from all over the world, analysing the feed with a complex set of algorithms to determine the area the news relates to down to the zip code level, and serving it to the right audience.

There were many hurdles in getting the website to achieve its purpose. The news aggregated from various news sources was not well tagged with meta-data, thus rendering it difficult to guess the relevant geography. While some natural language lexing was used, most of the analysis boiled down to sophisticated algorithms that hashed datasets collected from TIGER/Line and other sources to throw evidence about geography.

Topix LLC started in 2004 as a small start-up. In 2005, 75% of it was bought by three major news companies of America. Rich Skrenta, the co-founder and CEO and hacker himself, reveals some of the magic behind the website that is rapidly replacing local newspapers.


Rich Skrenta is a hacker, the co-founder and CEO of Topix LLC, the head of a new start-up called Blekko Inc., and the co-founder of NewHoo, a volunteer-built web directory, which was acquired by Netscape in 1998 and renamed the Open Directory Project.

He is famous for having written Elk Cloner in 1982, which is known to be the first microcomputer virus for Apple II. He was involved in the development of VMS Monster, an old MUD for VMS. He is also known for his role in developing TASS, an ancestor of tin, the popular threaded Usenet newsreader for Unix systems. In 1989 he started working on a multiplayer simulation game. In 1994 it was launched under the name Olympia as a pay-for-play game by Shadow Island Games. He is known to have attempted to design a programming language called bx, along with a friend of his.

Previously, he has worked at Commodore Business Machines, Unix System Labs and at Sun Microsystems. Skrenta graduated from Northwestern University in Illinois.

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