Netscape Aims To Be Digg 2.0, Slashdot 3.0 With Community News Model

I was never a big Slashdot fan, given that I found the conversations about search often had comments from people who didn't know what they were talking about. Digg came along and hardly won me over. Having one of my stories Dugg over there reinforced the idea that Digg was Slashdot 2.0 in all the wrong ways. Now AOL is trying to revive its flagging Netscape brand by turning it into a Digg-clone or Slashdot 3.0, if you will. You'll find the new version here.

Good luck. Seriously, I know Slashdot/Diggish sites are obviously popular with plenty of people who are not like me, and I fully recognize they serve their own communities. I've even pondered doing our own search version for Search Engine Watch, just as John Battelle has been thinking about this week. But if so, I'd never give up the editorial model that I'm used to. Call me old fashioned -- heck, I still like reading print newspapers -- but I still think there's a place for someone you trust to help filter out what they think is important.

Of course, any individual or small group might not have the "wisdom of the crowd" and miss a big event. So things like Digg definitely have a role. They also have their imperfections, too -- the crowd can be full of idiots or manipulated behind the scenes by only a few, as Digg's been accused of.

Anyway, perhaps Netscape will turn out to be a new super-site for the community news crowd. We'll see. As for the site itself, I took a fly though to see what's up.

The home page has a Netscape Anchors area at the top, where Netscape's paid editorial staff is picking out stuff to feature. That's nice. I like the idea that key things might get play this way.

Off to the right-hand side, you've got Channels, topics of various types. Want to see what's Dugg (Nugg?) for video games? Head to the video games category (conveniently its own subdomain, making it nice crawler-fodder for the search engines).

Each category has its own featured stories. Below that, you'll find the RSS feed for the page, allowing you to subscribe and get just the latest posts for that area. Nice.

Of course, one of Netscape's big selling features is the idea that it is both broader -- covering more than technology that Digg handles -- plus granular. You can get stuff just about movies or just about politics, if you want it. (FYI, Digg plans its own expansion next week).

What Netscape is doing sounds great, until you look at something like Topix. That's not a community generated news site. Instead, stories at Topix are automatically routed into particular categories. And those categories leave Netscape in the dust.

Video games? I don't want Playstation 2 stuff mixed in with Nintendo Wii items. At Netscape, that's going to happen. At Topix, Nintendo Wii is its own category -- with its own RSS feed, by the way.

How about contributing? You need to be a member. Sign-in here, sign-up here or recover your password here. I tried recovering my password, figuring I must be a member of Netscape somehow, someway. I still have my old, old, old AOL name floating about, plus I signed up for the Netscape portal ages ago, when it opened. But the recover feature just sat there grinding away until finally telling me to "Please try back soon!"

Fine. I'll sign-up. I'm not much into avatars, but offering five lame ones is, well, lame. Sure, you can upload your own. I'll get right on that!

What's the minimum information you can get away with to register? Name and email won't cut it. You've got to give up a birth date, as well. A ZIP code or post code doesn't seem required, but Netscape fails to tell you that on the reg form.

Then again, maybe it is required. I could never get my registration to process correctly. No doubt the new site is under a big load. No doubt they knew it would be, so the failure to keep up is either (A) lame or (B) calculated so they can say, "we're so popular that all the demand crashed us. Either way, it's not pleasing.

For any story, you can click to see what others are saying about it. You then have an option to say if the story is good, bad or block seeing comments from a particular person in the future. None of this can be done if you aren't signed in, however. I haven't explored this more, but all the voting probably helps stories rise or fall in Netscape plus allows individuals to gain more attention in the system

There are "Top Netscape Contributors," listed on the right-hand side of the home page. Want a list of them? There's no dedicated page that I can see. Similarly, while there are "Netscape Anchors" also listed, you can't find a page dedicated to all of them. More lameness.

I wanted to play with submission, but as I explained, the system's either not letting me register or I'm registered but it's not letting me sign-in. I can see that stories can be assigned tags in addition to being placed within channels. Ugh. It feels like Netscape is trying to straddle both the Web 1.0 and 2.0 worlds. As a result, you can see all stories tagged family or you can see all stories in the completely different family category. Nothing confusing about that.

Enough of my poking. How about what others are saying?

First of all, what they aren't saying is any help information on the site that I can see. Want to know more about how the new Netscape works, from Netscape itself?
There's no info offered. Well heck, the privacy policy and the terms both gave me 500 internal server errors, because I tried to reach them from the family area, and the links (like this one) weren't pointing in the right places. I'm sure help will come, just as those bad links will get fixed, but it would kind of nice to have had it at the start.

Netscape from Jason Calacanis, who is running Netscape now, says pretty much zilch and just points at coverage elsewhere.

Digg this: Calacanis relaunches iconic as a "social news" site at SiliconBeat says the official launch is for July 1 and quotes Calacanis promising "open source journalism" and covers how other names for the site rather than using the beat-up (to me) Netscape brand were considered. But Netscape won out as being tied to the internet and discovering new content. Tied to the internet? Sure. Discovering new content? Yeah, right.

AOL's said to be bold and ambitious by turning a major portal into sending traffic to smaller sites. Um, that's called Google and Yahoo and any search portal you care to name.

The story covers that clickthrough rate is part of the ranking algorithm, so nice to know that will never get abused :)

The Los Angeles Times in Web Users to Make News on Netscape Relaunch talks about the gamble that AOL is making in possibly losing the 11.2 million people who visit the site each month, if they can no longer have the portal features they want. It also covers how the anchors will be sent out to do coverage in areas they watch over. It also talks about Calacanis as self-proclaimed renegade AOL employee who got much of the Netscape work done in a weeklong code jam. Perhaps that's part of the registration jam I'm dealing with now. Relaunched As a User-Driven News Aggregation Site; Calacanis is GM, Netscape over at talks about the site having eight anchors/journalists watching over the content and how current Netscape portal features like mail will move to AOL.

AOL to Turn Netscape Site Into a Newspaper of Sorts from the New York Times talks about the drop in visitors to Netscape (so why not throw the dice?).

New focuses on news from covers more on how the anchors are following up on stories, plus how in addition to the eight anchors, there are 15 part-time specialists. It concludes with Calacanis not sure if it will be a hit.

Certainly, it's a brave attempt. I like the idea of trying to overtly mix in the editors along with the community participation. Whether those editors will get in the way of the community wave that's pushed along the popularity of Digg remains to be seen.