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Netscape: the New New Thing? June 15, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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It never fails — the best soundbyte, not the thoughtful analysis, gets quoted. And the LA Times’ Chris Gaither is a good reporter. Here’s what I really think about the new new Netscape:

– It’s a bold, aggressive attempt to re-invent what was once a great Internet brand.
– It’s designed to blend professional editors, the wisdom of crowds, and the power of the hyper-linked media world we now live in. In that sense, it’s designed from the ground up to exploit some of the best ideas and most powerful forces in new media. (Users tag and summarize stories from other sites, which then bubble up by popularity but also by editorial hands. Those editors will also do commentary and some light reporting.)
– It’s an online network that should be able to learn from the best practices of the original — and best — online network.

Okay. That’s the theory, and I like it. Here’s some challenges:

– The current soft beta version zero dot something is a hideous, ugly mess, that doesn’t do a good job of promoting the coolest stuff, telling its users what’s going on, or driving traffic across the network (let alone the Time Warner network).
– Don’t let Jason Calacanis talk to advertisers. Or to journalism professors.
– It will have a huge challenge converting the current Netscape.com users. It might have been better off starting from scratch.
– This whole approach might work better from the bottom up than from the top down. That is, focused channels or sites loosely linked, rather than trying to do a 30-channel, general purpose coverage machine from day one “because we’re part of AOL and that’s what AOL does.”
– It doesn’t leverage a browser, let alone the Netscape browser, or IM, the one thing AOL still leads the league in. However, I’m told that’s to come. It also is oddly text-centric for a new new thing.

Currently, Netscape.com traffic patterns show that its users use it like a portal — not a news site — although a distinctly second tier one. Its 11-12M monthly users (no longer top 50 reach) use it more than seven days a month, according to comScore, which is pretty good. Yahoo and AOL are in the 11-12 day ranges, CNN and ESPN are in the four to five range, and NYTimes.com is two to three. But Netscape.com’s total minutes are half that of CNN, although five or six times those of People.com.

So, I like a lot of the ideas, the execution is very much a work in progress, and I predict the existing user transition will be rough.

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