Why Community Matters from Chris Tolles

Chris is the CEO of Topix, the leading news community on the Web, connecting people to the information and discussions that matter to them in every U.S. town and city. He came to Topix from Spoke Software, a business social networking company, where he was a co-founder and VP of marketing. Before Spoke, Chris was a Director of Marketing at AOL/Netscape for AOL Music, Netscape Search and Directory Products. Chris was a co-founder and VP of Marketing at NewHoo, and led the sale of the company to Netscape. After the acquisition, NewHoo was relaunched as the Open Directory Project at Netscape and became the world’s largest human edited directory of the web, and is still used by companies like Google, Alexa and AOL. Chris graduated from the University of California at San Diego with degrees in Computer Science and Economics, where he was awarded the Michael J. Addison award for his senior thesis about the online information industry.

At We Media Miami, Chris will moderate a session on “Why Community Matters” with Ben Ilfeld of The Sacramento Press, C. Renzi Stone, from SaxumPR, and Anders Gyllenhaal, Executive Editor of the Miami Herald. I spoke with Chris last week and asked him to talk about the burning questions on his mind as he prepares for the upcoming conversations.

“When I think about ‘Community Matters’, it occurs to me that the question is what is the purpose of community? Is it to extol content for the community? Or is it to generate content that the community creates? And then, the larger question becomes how to monetize ‘community’? There are 2 billion users coming online in the next ten years. How do we monetize the value of their content? And, further, how do we deal with “truth” in community-generated journalism? On a community site, truth is subjective. Newspapers must be very cautious about libel issues, and objectionable content is muted. I’m a “freedom of speech” guy, and its cost is hate speech and libel, but I’m good with that because libel kills a free flowing debate. Journalists are fighting with one hand behind their backs. In a community-based media company, rather than “truth seeking”, there is “advocacy building.” I’m looking forward to having this conversation with my colleagues on our panel, some of whom are working for traditional news media. Should be an interesting debate!”

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