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Netscape, AOL Look to Crush the Web 2.0 Out of Digg, Reddit

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Netscape, which is run by America Online (AOL) these days, has launched a massive new revamp (which can be found here while it runs in beta) of an effort that shifts this once traditional online news portal to an interactive and vote-based “Web 2.0” interface that has been dubbed by many as a potential “Digg-killer.”

Essentially, this is the classic story of a massive company moving into the space where a small one is thriving through force of innovation and verve. And the big question, of course, is: will the e-Walmart crush the very soul from the Web 2.0-Mom and Pop Shop?

There are a number of interesting factors to look at here. Still massive thanks to the millions of subscribers that it has, AOL is now losing subscribers and it’s difficult to say whether or not the once mighty ISP will be able to stem the tide. And even with its large subscription base, that does not automatically translate into audience at the new Netscape.com.

Quite simply, the product has to be there, and there are dozens of start-ups in the space – including Digg, Reddit, and Shoutwire – already soaking up the “user moderated” (stories are submitted and then voted upon by users; the most popular ones get selected or elevated to the site’s front page, thus grabbing the most attention) content space.

So, does the new Netscape make the grade? It’s got a lot of potential. The best thing about it is that it encourages submissions in more than two dozen categories, including Celebrities, Politics, Money, and Religion. The tech-centric market leader Digg (which will expand its own focus soon, according to reports) has until now insisted that all story submissions are in some way related to technology. It also utilizes social bookmarking in the way of tags, which is a nearly obligatory social media feature these days, allowing for someone to easily click a word like Blogcritics and find every story related to that fine media source.

On the downside, the registration, submission, and voting process are still a bit clunky, which could be disaster in a game where zipping to a competitor site takes less time than it took me to write this sentence. However Weblogs and now Netscape-guru Jason Calacanis insists there will be improvements: “The DIGG crowd has been having a great time slamming the New Netscape over the past 24 hours, but if you look beyond their venom they actually have some amazing suggestions—the best ones so far in fact! I've been responding to every single one that comes in as quick as I can.”

Publishing 2.0 sums up the current debate perfectly (and creepily echoes a real-world conversation I had just yesterday): “On the face of it, the news that AOL/Netscape is launching a Digg killer suggests that if Digg, Reddit, and other imitators had a chance to sell, they should have taken it. It also suggests that Web 2.0 start-ups may be vulnerable to the goliath media companies with huge reach swooping in to eat their lunch — the low barrier to entry sword cuts both ways.”

And if that’s not enough, this weighty uber-ton bomb of a sentence drops next: “This will effectively be a large-scale test of Web 2.0 ideology.”

If nothing else, this development is more confirmation that “Web 2.0 ideology,” whatever that is, has penetrated traditional online media sources and is certainly here to stay. Web 2.0 can really be seen as a continuum of tools and resources that have continually increased the power of the user while decreasing the importance (or at least the prominence) of the content provider.

Today, we see how blogs, podcasts, vlogs, and “Web 2.0” news sources that encourage user moderated submissions and voting are creating new ways of looking at the world.

A world in which both large and small companies are able to innovate.

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  • The article is fantastic, but the links don’t forward through. The new Netscape does sound interesting and definitely worth checking out. I think AOL is trying to use blogs and the new Netscape to broaden their community focus, but they’ll have to do a lot more than what they’re doing now to return to their days of dominance.

  • Thanks Mr. RE! I think your assessment is just about right on.

    Links are fixed now.

  • Very interesting EB. When a giant like aol/netscape takes on this concept, it seems the whole web is moving to a new level.

    I haven’t really gotten into the whole digg scene, but then why do I need to go anywhere else when I’ve got BC!

  • I should have added that another interesting aspect is that Netscape is adding a layer of “professional” editing to its product, combining a pure user-based model with a more traditional one. Will be interesting to see how that works out.

  • And thanks Matt!

  • kob

    Very good, thoughtful post. My observations:

    — These vote-on-the-story models dumb down content. Voters aren’t likely to cite a http://www.tnr.com analysis as a top read; but “Mass. school punishes students with electric shock” gets lots of votes. (from a top story when i looked at digg.)

    — Will media companies destroy independents? The blog world isn’t about to become a one newspaper town. MSM has strengths to leverage, but it’s still corporate, its writers face restraints, may not have the passion level of independent bloggers. Independent bloggers have motivations that are different (some don’t even care about money, surprisingly), and have the ability to turn on a dime and be creative.

    — I’ll say this. Blogcritics does a great job, has loyal readers, and doesn’t need to worry about netscape or weblogsinc. It’s built a community.

    — There are tens of thousands of local bloggers who may get a 25,50,100 unique visitors a day who turn out stellar, thoughtful content, wonderful reading, about their lives, their communities who will never appear on digg. They are local bloggers and are the most powerful publishing force that world has ever seen and we’re only at the pre-beginning of it. Local bloggers, independent voices, that can arrive and disappear in months, are the force that will change all content models, and while that may not seem obvious, the best thing about the web is that its best ideas, content and thinking emerges from volcanic, explosive and high energy bottom, not the top. MSM has power, but its content foundation is is being turned into quicksand by tens of thousands of bloggers.