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Fearing the Future: New York Times Goes Negative On Netscape

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For those addicted to "social news" websites (where readers decide what hits the "front page" by submitting, voting on, and chatting about stories), the summer has been sunshiny good times.

Digg.com, the massively popular tech-focused social news site, expanded its horizons to arenas such as politics and entertainment. In short order, "web 1.0" caterpillar Netscape.com turned web 2.0 butterfly by both stealing from and experimenting with the "Digg model," adding editorial "anchors," real live humans who help to steer news coverage, hang out and comment on what's going on, and attempt to rein in the chaos that is the norm at such free-for-all electronic bazaars.

The New York Times, picking up on this story, decided to go strangely negative on the new Netscape. Instead of lambasting the experiment in social news itself – which one could certainly argue for or against – the coverage focused on the "surprisingly angry feedback" of a few on site commenters to "bring the old Netscape.com back." An electronic petition was then cited that received "1,000 electronic signatures" before Netscape pulled the entry from its front page.

Change is hard. Even in the warp-mega speed of the Internet, it takes people a while to get used to it. The wonderful and extraordinary thing about the Internet – and particularly the interaction and feedback-intensive universe that we now find ourselves in – is that people can whine and lament and yearn and pontificate in nearly real time.

So it makes sense that some people would get ruffled by changes to a web portal that has been around, in Internet terms, since the Jurassic era. What is less clear is why the The New York Times decided to take a "gotcha" angle on this story.

Perhaps this fear of change is nowhere stronger than within the bowels of traditional media itself. Traditional news organizations – with outlets in print, television, radio, and the Internet – are based upon a "we report, then we tell you what's important" model. The entire concept of an audience "reporting" (by endlessly scouring the earth and the Internet for news, opinions, tid bits, and intriguing pieces of lint) and then selecting the top stories is antithetical to the entire foundation upon which the traditional news media is based.

Therefore, a "gotcha" story about the new web 2.0 butterfly in the electronic neighborhood makes more sense in this light.

Valleywag chimes in by stating, "The Times doesn't even bother linking the story to the bigger issues. For one, what does public reception of Netscape.com show about AOL's chances as a new bottom-up media company?"

Initial numbers prove out that Netscape's move has been successful, at least initially, with a 17% increase in traffic from late June through mid-July, according to Hitwise.

What is perhaps most damning about the story is that Weblogs, Inc. CEO and Netscape.com point man Jason Calacanis was (presumably) neither contacted nor quoted for the story. On his own blog, Jason refutes the story, pointedly adding that "There is one piece of misinformation in the story: that we tried to silence the folks doing the petition by not letting them vote up negative Netscape stories on the new Netscape–that's simply not true."

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  • Since apparently all paradigm shifts should result in 100% buy-in, with no criticism at all, this is big news!

    OR, it could be that people don’t like change, even if that change is good, and we would expect The New York Times to be a little more up-front about that, and about the fact that Netscape is essentially a competitor, when trashing them as their article does.

  • I’ve been surprised by how often traditional news sources fail to “get” new media.

  • This reminds me; I’d been meaning to complain about the changes to the format of Blogcritics that happened about a year or so ago. I’d gotten used to the way it worked before, and the new ways left me slightly disoriented.

    However, before I got around to articulating my discontent, I somehow managed to figure out that the new layout works much better than the old scheme, in many important ways.

    Had my personality been more impatient and hasty, I might have tried to stir up a campaign to take things back to the “good old days,” but as it turned out, it’s probably better that I didn’t.

  • Hilarious Victor!

  • Serket

    Is there still a Netscape browser? Friedman argues that Netscape is one of the 10 flatteners in “The World is Flat.”

  • Jade

    Instead of focusing on the NY Times’ angle on this issue… I’m commenting on the Netscape homepage itself.

    “Social news” is an interesting option but I personally don’t care if the “top” vote getters are stories about Brangelina or Paris Hilton. I don’t know if there is a way to have both “traditional news” homepage and a “social news” version to appease all.

    If you are a Netscape subscriber, I respectfully invite you to read the comments of the disgruntled individuals in response to Jason Calacanis’ blog (the Netscape vs. old netscape story). The comments are overwhelmingly against the “social news” Netscape homepage. But good luck finding that story, and in relation to that … “An electronic petition was then cited that received “1,000 electronic signatures” before Netscape pulled the entry from its front page.” … Netscape wants people to vote on the stories that are of interest yet they pull a negative story about Netscape. Sounds a little hypocritical and like censorship — or is it just me?

  • Frank Schmeisser

    The new Netscape format is true democracy. I love this new page! The old Netscape had been nearly irrelevant to me as there is only so much of diet fads, lovemaking tips, and celebrity “news” one can stand. Roll on Netscape!