TopTopic is a new online community with two main features that make it unique among the Reddits, Facebooks, YouTubes, and Tumblrs of the world. First, people who post on TopTopic can make money from their own content, without relying on third-party ads. Second, TopTopic’s content is closely watched for appropriateness.
The TopTopic site and web app, developed by a team in Seattle, launched publicly Wednesday morning after a successful Indiegogo campaign in October 2015 that allowed the online community to start a private beta for its 60 early adopters.
Like Reddit, TopTopic has a number of different threads, called “Topics,” that users can read and upvote — a process it calls “topping” a post. Unlike Reddit, TopTopic has strict policies regarding appropriate content, including zero-tolerance for harassment, discrimination, and hate speech, which make the site somewhat of a rarity among online communities, which seem to run on an “anything goes” model for their posts and comment sections.
“The trolling is out of control,” explained Saïd Amin, the co-founder and CEO of TopTopic in an interview with GeekWire this week. “Reddit. YouTube. … It’s bad across the board. The loonies are running the asylum. Having had experience in community building, I know that to establish good culture, it needs to start at the outset. … You need to be policing it from the beginning, the first member.”
TopTopic is also unusual as an online community because it allows users to monetize their posts without resorting to third-party ads, via a process they call “SuperTopping.” Users buy credits on the site called SuperTops, which cost 10 cents each. With a SuperTop, users essentially pay to up-vote posts more than once, with the amount the post rises depending on how many times users SuperTop it.
The original author of a SuperTopped post receives 5 cents and TopTopic receives the other 5 cents. Users cannot SuperTop their own posts, and SuperTopping involves an IP address check to prevent users from creating separate accounts to boost their own content.
“We don’t want to do advertising,” Amin said. “This is a community-driven revenue model…If you have this topic you’re passionate about, you’re going to contribute so that more people see will posts about it and to reward the community members who create the type of content that you like to see on the site.”
“Do you know how many people are on Tumblr posting stuff for free?” he added. “They should do it here instead. They might make several hundred or several thousand dollars over the course of a year.”
Beyond its unusual revenue model and strict content standards, TopTopic is a lot like a cross between Reddit and Tumblr, Amin said.
Like Tumblr, TopTopic offers different content creation tools. Users can create posts with links, photos, videos, audio, text, lists, and polls. Memes will be next, Amin said.
Once created, posts go into specific topics created by TopTopic’s members, like Reddit’s subreddits. Those topics can be public or private and involve sophisticated settings like invite-only posting or posts that must be moderator-reviewed before they appear on the Topic page. If users post inappropriate content to a Topic, their posts will be removed, but there is an option to explain to those users how their content violated community standards so that they will know what not to do next time, Amin said.
Members of TopTopic, in addition to having different media options for their posts, can also track their content through TopTopic’s analytics section, which provides information about the engagement and revenue generated from a post.
Right now, TopTopic’s biggest hurdle is building up its member base, Amin said. He believes that there are many members of other online communities who are feeling disillusioned and who looking for alternatives. TopTopic can attract them with its commitment to community respect, he said.
“When it comes to community, it’s a big deal to me,” Amin said. “I’ve moved my whole life; I’ve traveled to 23 countries; I’m an immigrant. I love it when people agree to disagree in a respectful manner. All too often we are in an echo chamber, just hearing what we want to hear….Much of my life is in the gray and I want to hear different opinions, but also to know I’m in a safe space.”
Previously the founder of World Singles Networks, an online dating site (where he met his own wife), Amin has experience in building online communities. Feeling tired of the trolls on social media, he decided to build a new online community that would adhere to basic standards of respect, while still fostering creativity and passionate discussion, he said. Once Amin had refined his ideas and pulled together a team, the actual site development for TopTopic took about a year, he said.
The company, at least for now, is bootstrapped, said Amin. He doesn’t anticipate fundraising anytime soon because raising capital can require a site to compromise its community’s interests for its investors’ interests, he said. For Amin, the ideal situation would be that TopTopic generates enough revenue from its community members to fuel growth, so it won’t have to cater to any external parties.
At TopTopic, Amin is joined by fellow co-founders Behzad Ghaffarian, who does the front end user interface for TopTopic and also for World Singles Network; and John Skorick, who heads up community engagement strategy at TopTopic while continuing to work on his company, MyAKA, which provides mobile phone security. The team also includes Javid Jamae, who provides guidance to TopTopic’s engineering team and who works at Tout as a principal software engineer.