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."