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Technology

One click opens window to world

Topnuz compiles most popular news stories from 5,000 media outlets

From left to right: Francisco Roca, José López and Daniel García. Ampliar foto
From left to right: Francisco Roca, José López and Daniel García.

Just admitting it makes them blush, but Daniel García and José López have a dream: that one day their phones will ring, and from California, an executive from one of the world's most influential social networks will invite them to cross the Atlantic and join a team of technological visionaries. "And who wouldn't like that?" they muse. "It's the Mecca of the internet."

But until that dream comes true, these two young engineers believe they've already outdone all of today's most popular social news and entertainment websites with a groundbreaking project they've concocted in Jaén, a province in southern Spain.

The idea for www.topnuz.com, an innovative site that publishes the most relevant or popular news stories shared in social networks, first occurred to García two years ago. "I thought that if I didn't take the risk now while I'm young, I never would," says the Baeza native and current project manager.

Shortly after, García shared the idea with friends Pepe and Jesús Muñoz (who left the project after moving to Madrid). The three are all former computer-engineering students at the University of Jaén (UJA).

Stories are uploaded automatically based on their popularity"

"Unlike other news gathering sites, such as Menéame, Reddit or Digg, stories aren't uploaded subjectively based on the editor's discretion, but rather automatically based on their popularity on social networks," says López, who manages the technical side of Topnuz and is largely responsible for creating the innovative software.

The result was a website that tracks stories that have been published in the last three hours and determines which have been shared the most on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

The program selects stories automatically, but considers other factors in addition to popularity. For example, it has a positive selection bias for media with fewer followers. "The more users a media outlet has, the harder it is for them to appear on the site," says López, a computer engineer from Úbeda who, like García, is 28 years old.

After completing a year-long trial phase, Topnuz was released last December. It was initially launched with desktop and mobile versions. It currently has Spanish and English editions in eight countries: Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Peru. In total, the website draws from some 5,000 media outlets. It also has Facebook and Twitter accounts dedicated to each country and lots of personalization options available through the preferences section.

"It's interesting to see what's trending in a bunch of different news media, because that way readers can judge for themselves," says García. And what are the hottest topics these days? "People are obsessed with politics, especially all the scandals, but also science, society and social movements," says García.

Since December, the site has accumulated a database of over a million-and-a-half articles. Their motto, explains García, is: "The people choose the news."

Topnuz is automatically updated from a central server at the University of Jaén - where the project was initially hatched, with the help of mathematical analysis professor Francisco Roca and the Data Mining Research Department. "We told them about our idea, but when they actually saw it on the network, they were pleasantly surprised," recalls García.

The initiative also earned them a generous loan from the Empresa Nacional de Inovación (National Innovation Company) to develop the project - 25,000 euros repayable over three years.

Although you might think that the automatic update feature makes the duties of the site's creators obsolete, this couldn't be further from the truth. "The software is a living organism, and it has to be constantly developed," says López. He also highlights the possibility that readers could pitch suggestions to the website's developers.

At the moment, López and García are attempting to consolidate the website. To do this, they want to find business partners in the industry. "In the US, investing in this type of project is common, but in Spain it's a lot harder," admits García. He and López hope they don't have to resort to the three Fs - family, friends and fools - to keep the project afloat.

And at the moment, Topnuz still hasn't made much of a profit (although it's true that the upkeep cost isn't very high either). López and García hope that as the site grows, its web traffic will increase as well, ultimately attracting advertisers.

The two acknowledge that the venture was a bit of a gamble. "Our friends congratulate us and encourage us. But they tell us they never would have done what we did," say the two techies who, amid a sea of olive trees in Jaén, managed to create a site that lets readers open a window to the world with a single click.