If you’re interested in finding hot news on the web it’s not too hard — provided the topic is technology. Twitter, Tweetmeme, Techmeme, Digg, and the like all offer up a mixture of what’s hot in technology with varying degrees of success. But for other topics, it’s not so easy. That’s why Topicfire was built.
Topicfire is what co-founder Ryan Sit calls a “realtime hot news aggregator.” It uses what the service dubs its “HeatRank” to rate any particular story on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 representing the hottest stories. These stories are broken up into dozens of categories so users can drill down to find just what they want, and easily sort the stream to find just the hottest stories.
For example, Sit likes to read about coffee, but there was no good aggregator of that news on the web. With Topicfire, there is. There’s also a page for beer news. And bacon news. And of course, they also offer the bigger topics that are tradtionally aggregated, such as the aforementioned tech news, and celebrity news.
But what’s nice about Topicfire is that it’s very simple. The main page is a single stream of news that is updated in realtime as certain stories from thousands of sources around the web get hot. This hotness is determined not by links (part of what Techmeme uses) or votes (what Digg uses) or retweets (which Tweetmeme uses), but instead mostly by comments on the originating site itself.
Topicfire looks at every site they pull in content from and rates individual posts based on the comments they are getting in a set amount of time versus the average posts on that site. This creates the HeatRank. They are also looking at retweets as a backup, but as they note, those aren’t really a good indicator of popularity beyond tech news. The main page and each topic page has a slider along the top to allow users to easily filter which content they want to see on the 1 to 10 scale.
Perhaps even better is that Topicfire is great at highlighting popular stories by making their images dynamic. That is to say, if a story is really hot, it may have an image in the stream that is the full width of the stream. If it’s less popular, it may just have a thumbnail view. This is something which is an obvious but natural visiual cue to let a reader know that one story is more important that another one.
Another nice element of Topicfire is that it’s entirely built on top of Facebook Connect. This means there is no new service to sign up for, you simply log-in with your Facebook account and you’re done. If you comment on an item or like it, this all gets sent back to your Facebook profile. “We want to be the news for Facebook,” Sit says.
That said, Topicfire also easily allows yout to tweet out any story you find on the site as well with the click of a button.
So why use something like this over an RSS reader? Well that should be obvious. Most people still don’t get that concept, nor do they necessarily want to see every single story from every single source, there’s just not enough time to read that all. Topicfire takes the RSS feed for these thousands of sites and breaks it up into the hottest items. They use both rssCloud and Pubsubhubbub to pull in these feeds in realtime.
Unlike Techmeme, the only human curation done on Topicfire is the picking on sources and topics. Eventually, the team may crowdsource both of those as well. Google News is also all algorithm-based, but it’s often severly lacking when it comes to breaking news — which again, is the main focus of Topicfire.
Topicfire is launching its first iteration today. Down the road, they hope to add elements such as an iPhone app that would allow them to alert users when a new story they are interested in is breaking. They also plan to create a comprehensive search element, and open an API so others can pull in their data.