Part microsite topic portal and part community site, Boxxet just officially launched with more than 450 topics. The service aggregates news, blogs, photos, bookmarks and products associated with topics, such as sport teams, TV shows, personalities, hobbies and autos. Compared to many other sites that aggregate content by topic, Boxxet is a clean, well lighted space.
Boxxet applies a crawler to assembling the content, starting with a handful of sites. "For every boxxet, we start with four or five bookmarks, said You Mon Tsang, CEO of Boxxet. "The machine learns what it means to be San Francisco Giants, for example, and then crawl the web based on selected sites. Users start to interact--rating and clicking--and then we learn more, with filters for relevancy and what we call a 'passion filter,' which detects what people like. For instance, we found a few blogs about the San Francisco Giants that people are passionate about. When new content comes in, we rank it accordingly."
Users can submit content to be added to a Boxxet topic page, participate in forums and save favorite Boxxets to a "my" page. Audio and video content will be added to the site the soon, Tsang said.
Boxxet plans to focus on building portals for the top 10,000 to 20,000 search terms. We could either go deeper within boxxsets or go wide," Tsang said. "Users want more subjects, so that's probably the way we will go." He expects to take a year to 18 months to scale up to 10,000. "Starting boxxet set takes 10 minutes of human time, but it takes a lot of computing power, which we have to scale up."
Unlike many other topic sites sprouting up, such as Zimbio and Squidoo, Boxxet is more top down. Rather than a single person managing the site or purely user generated content, Boxxet relies more on relevancy (most popular sites, blogs, etc.), machine learning and community input to build the topic pages.
However, Tsang has been getting feedback that users want to be able to build boxxets. "Squidoo might have five San Francisco Giants sites," Tsang said. "We want one site to aggregate the best content and to add more intelligence, avoiding the cult of a single personality controlling the content. If the content is good our crawler will find it or fans will submit it."
"Longer term we will compete with search engines as they put more effort into top search result pages," Tsang predicted. He also included about.com, owned by the New York Times, and digg as competitors, especially for the larger-grained topics.
Boxxet doesn't have any ads on the site yet, but Tsang plans to introduce them once the site has some traction in typical Web 2.0 fashion. In addition, displaying merchandise associated with topics featured on the pages, as well as integration with eBay and other auction sites, will bring in revenue, Tsang said. Sponsored topic pages, such as for Ford Mustang, could also be a way to generate revenue, but first Boxxet needs to generate traffic.
Boxxet is a two-person company with money in the bank, after taking $900,000 from Ascend Venture Group. "We decided not to raise too much money--you can get sloppy and start to grow too quickly, so we aren't doing any hiring until we reach some thresholds," Tsang explained.
For now Boxxet has the chicken and egg problem. Few sites can live up to "Build it and they will come." Growth will come from high placement of Boxxet topic pages in the major search engine results, and search engine optimization can only take you so far in the rankings.