Netscape Loses its Identity – Again

I remember back in college, downloading Netscape Navigator Gold beta in an effort to get onto the World Wide Web without having to pay for a web browser. Back then companies actually made money selling browser software. You basically had your choice of Mosaic or Netscape from what I can remember. I was not a big techie back then either, I just used what was on the store shelves of the once popular Egghead Software retailer. And this was of course before Microsoft ruined the whole industry by introducing a free web browser, Internet Explorer. But even then, you could download a free beta version of Netscape to use for free. It had more features than IE at the time and was well-written. Times have of course changed and since its inception Netscape has fallen into the virtual gutter of homelessness, lost and without an identity.

The New Netscape?

Announced earlier this week, Netscape is trying a new business model, adopting a viral community design in which readers submit the content and then vote on each others submissions in an effort to take that article to the front page for more exposure. You can of course comment on the stories and even vote ?Good? ?Bad? or ?Block? on the comments allowing the readers to self moderate the site. In a sense it?s all a façade to get readers into thinking they have editorial control. The more control they have, the more likely they are to comment, submit stories and re-visit the site. Of course the corporate execs are laughing their way to the bank ? or would like to anyways.

Spearheaded by the new General Manager Jason Calacanis ( who thinks he will be the next AOL CEO ), who recently sold his blogging company Weblogs Inc. to AOL, the new Netscape is a complete and poorly executed rip-off of the popular site Digg.com which has grown from 30,000 readers a month to now more than 8 million monthly readers, making it one of the most popular sites on the web ? in any category. Digg has an intuitive interface with an easy-to-read layout designed with the readers in mind. The new Netscape on the other hand is plagued with ill-placed advertisements and although each submission links to the source article, it is done so with a Netscape site frame circa 1999 which really prevents the reader from truly visiting that linked site.

Guerilla?s in the Mist

At first glance it would appear that people are really enjoying the new Netscape beta, but as Digg readers have pointed out only about 80% percent of their traffic was from unregistered users who never really submit stories or post comments. Only about 24 people are actually submitting comments and articles (are these the Netscape Guerilla Bloggers? Probably Not ). This is called Guerilla marketing and Jason Calacanis is a genius at doing this. The idea is simple: hire a bunch of people to continually submit stories, post comments and make the site look busy. Jason used this tactic with several of his blogs and it worked fabulously. So what is the goal of the new Netscape?

As Saul Hansell a writer for the New York Times points out:

?AOL, part of Time Warner, has been trying to move away from its rapidly declining Internet access business by building a series of advertising-supported Web sites.?

You see Netscape is losing its audience – again. Down to 11.4 million users from 15.4 million a year ago, there is not enough compelling content or a good enough marketing push to keep readers coming back, Netscape is like the corner restaurant that switches from serving Italian one week to Chinese the next hoping to grow its business, but confusing people in the process.

The Netscape Audience is Changing

If this business model sees the light-of-day and it looks like it will, Netscape readers will change from the baby-boomers of yester-year to a younger audience more interested in Jessica Alba?s Bikini or Britney Spears than real intellectual news. Of course those that have any intellectual sense will already be visiting the Digg or Slashdots of the worlds. And what the executives at AOL need to figure out is whether there is real money in doing this. As I browse the Netscape Beta site, I see ads for Diet Products, Class Mates.com, and Toe Nail Fungus Medicine. Let me repeat this: AOL does not want to go down this road and use the Netscape brand to represent this type of content.

What the Crystal Ball Predicts

So will this new community site be a success? Well if your goal is to simply get page views and offload extra inventory you have sold for your other sites ? then yes. If AOL?s goal is to revive the Netscape name, to give it a new gallant purpose ? then no. Leave the MySpaces, and Digg?s of the world alone. Create something unique, innovative and of real value, then AOL will get the quality readers they so desperately need to survive.

Why does my opinion matter?

So you may be asking why my opinion matters. It doesn?t really. I have very little impact in the online world; I am simply an observer like you. I am however a big fan of Digg.com, I think it?s innovative and presents good value. I think it?s sad to see a once proud property like Netscape fall into the garbage bin with a rip-off site, but hey, that?s just my opinion.

I would love to hear what you think about the changes going on over at Netscape. Is it for the better or the worse? Am I out of my mind? I want to know.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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