Gossipy Site Topix Getting Into Politics

The once hot startup changes its focus

Topix is pretty much the opposite of a hot young startup. It launched in 2004, raised investment dollars from newspaper chains rather than Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and its core audience is suburban and rural.

But the sometimes rough-and-tumble talk (if not outright defamatory—there have been libel suits) on its forums attracts 10 million unique visitors every month, and the company has big plans for 2012. The site, which started out as a forum for community discussion, has become increasingly focused on politics, says CEO Chris Tolles. Political content has been driving the site’s traffic growth, and it gives Topix a way to feature content that’s “interesting and local and nonlibelous,” he says.

To take advantage of next year’s election excitement, Tolles wants to add features like issue-driven polling and infographics, and to hire a small editorial team to manage the user-generated content. 

Tolles is also courting political advertisers. The challenge there will be convincing campaigns to ignore Topix’s rough edges—or, as Tolles puts it, its “conversational” style.