Netscape Now!

(This article cross-posted on the Newsvine Blog)

You remember 1996. You had e-mail. Your friends didn’t. You could Yahoo. Your friends couldn’t. It was a time when most of the world spent less time online than they did eating breakfast. Two of the standout successes during this early stage of internet adoption were America Online and Netscape Communications. America Online’s strategy was to sell dial-up internet access for a monthly fee and provide users with a walled garden of content they couldn’t get anywhere else at the time. Netscape’s strategy was to own the piece of software that sat between the consumer and the internet and ultimately make money from both sales of that software and other endeavors created by “browser lock-in”.

Both companies saw tremendous initial success only to eventually see their fortunes turn sour as they were beaten down by competitors and the general move towards openness on the internet.

It is with curious anticipation then that we watch today the relaunch of the Netscape brand by parent company AOL as a “new generation of news portal” (beta site is here). Comparisons have already been made to Newsvine and Digg by media outlets like Red Herring and InformationWeek, but I’m not going to call them copycats as many others will. Everything’s been done before in one fashion or another and to accuse a new player of just ripping off an existing idea is to discount any and all creativity they may bring to the table.

Developing a new genre of news site is all about creativity, and as much as don’t always find myself agreeing with Netscape’s leader Jason Calacanis, I certainly respect his prowess as a dealmaker and his ability to get creative with the tools he’s given. Regardless of what you think of the guy, he’s good for AOL and he’s probably good for this particular product.

So the big question everyone’s going to be asking is, how does this affect Newsvine, Digg, or any of the other sites in this same general movement to modernize the news? If you ask me, I’d say it helps and helps a lot. The fact of the matter is that probably less than 1 out of 100 people in the world have ever even heard of Digg and even less have heard of Newsvine. This axiom is supported by common sense as well as observations like Ethan Kaplan’s in which he found that only 5 college students (all male) out of 100 in a particular lecture hall had heard of Digg. And these are college students! It’s really easy to get sucked into the trap of thinking the rest of the world is even 50% as tech-savvy as you are, but the reality is the exact opposite.

So what’s the point here? The point is that most of the world is completely unaware that they are beginning to have power over the news. We see this every day at Newsvine. People use the site to read the news just like they would at, say, CNN.com, and not until they *really* dig in do they find out they can write, seed, and influence the news mix by interacting with it. Part of this is that our interface is probably a little too subtle and demure for newcomers, but the other part is that people just aren’t expecting it.

With Netscape and AOL helping to spread the word about the democratized news movement, it increases the amount of people who are even ready for a site like Netscape, Digg, or Newsvine. It gets people thinking about getting more from their news and we like that very, very much.

In the end, there will be multiple successful news-writing, news-gathering, and news-sharing communities on the web. Most people will be members of more than one. The community which endears itself most to you is the one you’ll probably spend the most time in. And with that, I gladly welcome Netscape to the “social news” fold. Just for kicks, I’m going to fire up a copy of Communicator 4.72 and see if the site renders. :)

(Sorry, I had to get at least one retro-Netscape snark in)

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22 Responses:

  1. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the new Netscape home page, but what I do know is that this is another step towards legitimizing the medium of social news.

    However, I think Netscape is going about it in the worst possible direction. They should be poising themselves as a major news portal – not a nerdy tech niche site like Digg. The one thing they have going for them with this design is familiarity and ease-of-use. I like that it’s easy to vote up stories – that clear labeling drives the functionality of the site home to new users.

    I moaned when you guys made the vote button smaller, and although I’ve become accustomed to the interface (more news, less clutter), the small button doesn’t communicate the social aspect of the site to the new user. And no amount of marketing copy/ intro text can replace that communication.

    You guys have it 100% right with presentation. The polish of the site not only legitimizes it, but also raises the bar for authors – leading to more quality journalistic content from users. Again, the only niggle I have is with the vote button (and how the conversation tracker is displayed when not logged in – I understand the need to ‘tease’ it, but it might just confuse and clutter the uninitiated – So that’s two things :) )

    Netscape, however, is laughable competition at worst, and at best they’re widening the market for everyone.

  2. Ahhh, good ol’ Nutscrape. I remember the days when it was my preferred browser, back in the 4.x days. I’m not quite sure I want to see how sites look in it these days, but like you, I’ll probably fire a copy up later. :)

  3. Royce Holmes says:

    I have absolutly no ideaa how this works.

  4. Mike D. says:

    Rob: Yeah… I’ve been clicking around the site for the last hour or so and I’m really not too impressed so far. I didn’t mention anything negative in the writeup because I’m not trying to slam them and I do realize that this is step 1 and step 1 only. It’s going to improve over time.

    I agree with your sentiment that this shouldn’t be just another techie site, and I’ll note further that Jason seems to be carrying his “concentrate on revenue from day one” mentality to a place where it’s probably not necessary to do so. They’ve got ads all over the place already and judging from the comments I’ve been reading on Netscape threads, it’s pissing people off in a big way. We’ve been extremely disciplined in our placement of ads so far and we need the revenue 1000 times more than AOL does!

    By the way, I also agree with you that we need to figure out better ways to communicate how interactive the site is. Subtlety is good, but only when you’re already familiar with how to use things.

  5. I’m not going to call them copycats as many others will…

    So the big question everyone’s going to be asking is, how does this affect Newsvine, Digg, or any of the other sites in this same general movement to modernize the news? If you ask me, I’d say it helps and helps a lot. …

    its that type of reaction to competition that puts you at the forefront of everthing that is good about the internet right now Mike. bravo.

  6. They’ve got ads all over the place already and judging from the comments I’ve been reading on Netscape threads, it’s pissing people off in a big way.

    I couldn’t help but notice the same thing. The ads are mind blowing and anytime there are multiple pop-up’s, I instantly think “cheap”. I went there, I saw and I left. Netscape has a lot to learn about news sites and from what I can tell, “web 2.0″ technique.

  7. fwiw, I agree with the way you’re looking at it. It’s easy enough to see a direction early; harder to wait for everyone else to get there. Getting validation from a big name increases audience awareness, even if it raises the baseline expectations for the service. You can switch from explaining the service to improving it faster than others can. Have fun with it! :)

    jd

  8. I listen to talk radio at work when there are no new podcasts. Shortly after reading this entry, I heard a quick blurp about the new Netscape on the hourly news report. I agree with the point of this entry. The Netscape relaunch, while it’s not the best example of democratic news reporting, does bring user-powered-news into the lime light.

    User-powered-news is still a relatively new movement, but it’s catching on quickly. Many people have become disenchanted with the major media trying to force their own agenda on the people. A free thinking person can only sit and listen to the talking heads on TV and radio for so long until they twist off and stop caring. I’m in Oklahoma, and I’m lucky enough to live in an area that has talk radio shows that I enjoy listening to. I share a common viewpoint with most of the shows carried here, and they generally talk about the things I want to hear about. I’m not so lucky on the TV side. In an effort to be “edgy and cool” like the national media, many of the local TV stations here subscribe to the “if it bleeds, it leads” theory.

    Here’s my impression of my local TV news:
    “Today on the other side of the world, twenty-seven babies died today when a drunk driver swerved off the road and hit a telephone pole causing a live power line to fall into a pool where the children were swimming.”

    Ok, yes that’s weird, but when I tune into local news, I want LOCAL news! I’m in Oklahoma! Freakin’ eff! I’m also tired of hearing one despressing story after another. Why doesn’t anyone report on good things anymore? The large news outlets make you want to go strangle puppies. Major media will fall victim to it’s own agenda. As the world becomes more interactive and tech-based, people will regain their control over things big business soaked up long ago.

    Anyway, I’ll likely stick to Digg for my tech news. Netscape’s site looks like they took Digg and merged it with MySpace’s ad database. MySpace’s ads are why I’ve grown cold the social networking site. I’m a Newsvine newcomer, but I like the site. I’ve even replaced Google’s RSS news feed with the Newsvine feeds on my Google homepage.

  9. Thomas M. says:

    Mike, with what you wrote

    ..not until they *really* dig in do they find out they can write, seed, and influence the news mix by interacting with it.

    And what Jon just said, with regards to the local news …

    when I tune into local news, I want LOCAL news!

    I think these same sentiments were reflected recently with Jeff Croft’s statements on journalism when he writes

    Perhaps the second most important thing you can do (after reporting the news, of course), is create a community around the news … Local readers matter so much more, because they’re there to comment, discuss, submit and otherwise actively participate in your news.

    Don’t be afraid of user-submitted content. It can often every bit as worthwhile as your staff’s. If a user submits a photo, for example, that tells the story better than the photos your staff got, print the damn thing! That the story gets told is more important than making sure you’re the one telling it.

    This is where local news sites, that have taken this type of thinking into consideration, have started to flourish in both print and digital media. As you know, Jeff is among those who will quickly point to the award winning World Company as an innovator in this area in Lawrence, KS.

    While it’s good to See AOL and Netscape taking an active role in promoting this type of “community involvement”, their user experience doesn’t feel redy for prime time. I could never find a particular video that everyone one was talking about – even doing “find” on the video page it was linked to didn’t bring about any success. The ads feel a bit overwhelming, as does their large “What are People Saying About…” graphic. I didn’t mind the “related stories” at the top, but felt it a bit distracting when it transitions from one story to another.

    I’m not someone who visits “Digg” or “Newsvine” as much as others, but they are the first place I often go, because of their community and uncluttered UI experience.

  10. gb says:

    I visited this site in NS4 a year or so ago, and the home page caused netscape to implode. It was awesome.

  11. RobK says:

    I think Jason Calcanis shows an amazing talent for filling a page with ads. Weblogs, Inc. has been moving more and more in that direction and the Netscape page is hard for me to look at for any length of time. I don’t think this is something I will latch onto.

    Agreed, though, that social news is the new Kool-Aid. I mean that in a good way.

  12. “thinking the rest of the world is even 50% as tech-savvy as you are, but the reality is the exact opposite.”

    Which would be thinking that 50% isn’t as tech-savvy as you? ;)

    But yes, you’re right. This’ll provide a major boost in visibility (of the idea) for such sites. One catch is (that as far as I know) most netscape.com visitors are U.S. guys and galls, so it won’t help as much with global awareness.

    (Editor’s Note: Correct me if I’m wrong but I think my grammar is actually correct on that one. I didn’t say “50% of people” I said “50% as tech savvy” which means “most of the world is less tech savvy than you”… or maybe you’re just being sarcastic… in that case, haha! :) )

  13. I didn’t say “50% of people” I said “50% as tech savvy” which means “most of the world is less tech savvy than you”…

    Sure, and the exact opposite of that is…50%.

    or maybe you’re just being sarcastic… in that case, haha!

    Me? Sarcastic?

    Such a statement does not strike me as cromulent!

  14. Phil Georgi says:

    The Netscape beta site did keep me clicking and commenting for 90min. However having said that I think it’s grasping at straws and it’s parent company is desperate to salvage any possible rebirth. Leaave it AOL to take another company and screw it up. Other fine AOL aquisitions: Winamp, ICQ both at one time respectable now look…I used to visit NS frequently…I also find it interesting that CNN’s popular chat enviornment was shut down and NS is designing a news chat enviornment.

  15. quick updates:

    1. we took down a bunch of the ads.
    2. we cleaned up the design a bunch
    3. we fixed some of the server problems
    4. we made the Navigator (the frame) a user option… so you can turn it off with one click and never see it again. We also made it really narrow so it is not as obtrusive.

    We’re getting there… this is a real beta!

  16. I really don’t like this lay-out at all!!!!!
    give me back the old one please…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111

  17. Ty George says:

    I find it hard to believe that ANYBODY finds this sort of function pleasing, interesting, blah,blah,blah…I don’t use a browser to chit chat or view the opinions of other users…I need information..quick. I could care less who voted on what. Just list the freakin headlines and leave it at that. The only thing that has happened here is its easier for everyone with a chip on his/her shoulder (like mine) easier access to let you know how crappy this new lemon-for-a-browser is.

    Thanks, can’t wait to VOTE on meaningless crap for the rest of eternity.
    I looking for a new browser, anyone got an idea?…don’t ask ask these folks…

  18. Ty George says:

    Jason,do you really believe what you tell yourself? who at AOL has been scratching your back…good paycheck no doubt. I’m sure you and rest are good folks but please, stop fixing what isn’t broke…I’ve already posted but I’m so pissed about this. I’ll explain: I get up early, make some coffee and set at my MAC and read headlines, just like in the paper.

    I am, during that time period, in no mood to filter through a bunch of nonsense to just simply find the headlines. I mean, this new browser is for screwing around like a bunch of high school yearbook geeks.

    I also know that what I say has no matter..or will it ever, thats fine, just needed to get it out of my system before I leave this browser for good…tell
    the staff, great job!

  19. Christian says:

    Ahhh, good ol’ Nutscrape. I remember the days when it was my preferred browser, back in the 4.x days. I’m not quite sure I want to see how sites look in it these days, but like you, I’ll probably fire a copy up later. :)

    I see you are one of the people that allowed Microsoft’s monopoly to win back in the late, late Nineties. All the techies back then were like, “Microsoft is being a big bad bully and trying to crush Netscape. Those meanies!” but then went right along with it and forgot Netscape existed and started to use nothing but Internet Explorer. Then Firefox came along and all the techies were like, “Hey, finally there’s an alternate to IE.” I registered for a free Netscape e-mail address back in early 1999 when there was no indication that Netscape would soon be falling by the wayside, fully (and still) intending to keep it as my lifelong e-mail address (so, Netscape, you need to stick around at least another 60 years). Fast forward to 2006 and I was pretty sure that I was the only person on the planet who remembered Netscape until their front page gets revamped and everyone has an opinion about how their news is served up now. Maybe they will become viable again and I can wear my Netscape t-shirt out in public again. Anyways, Netscape 7.2 is an excellent browser. That’s what I have here at home and I’ve got Netscape 8 (and Firefox . . . and IE) on my computer at work.

  20. Zach says:

    Christian…you actually prefer Netscape 7.2 over Firefox? Care to explain why? From a usability/convenience/customization perspective perhaps?

    I too was a netscape fan but that was long ago.

  21. Christian says:

    “You actually prefer Netscape 7.2 over Firefox?”

    Never said that. I just couldn’t understand why people six, seven years ago complained about Microsoft trying to stamp out Netscape but then allowed the monopoly to occur. Netscape never went away but people forgot about it, but also complained about how crappy Internet Explorer was. I just kept using Netscape the whole time so I couldn’t understand the whole thing about “Hey, everyone! There’s this great new browser called Firefox! No need to stay stuck with IE all the time!” Nothing I have said here is an evaluation of the worth of Firefox’s technical aspects.

    “I too was a netscape fan but that was long ago.”

    That’s just the thing I’m fighting against: the go-with-the-flow attitude. “People forgot about Netscape so I should too. Now Firefox is the in thing so that’s what I’m going to go with.” How long before Firefox isn’t cool and you show how wise you are by ditching it?

    I actually use Netscape, IE, and Firefox about equally at work. At home it is Netscape 80%, IE 10%, Firefox 10%. Loaded Firefox on to my brother’s computer recently and noticed it was coming from the netscape.com server. I bet if Firefox stayed exactly the same but changed their GUI to look as though they were branded by Netscape everyone would go, “Yuck!” simply because that is the perception everyone feels the need to adopt. And, yes, I will admit there is little difference, technically speaking, between Netscape 8 and Firefox, especially since in Netscape 8 you can choose to have your pages displayed the way IE displays them or the way Firefox displays them . . . so with Netscape you have the best of all worlds but it is still perceived as outmoded.

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