Remember in the '80s when actress Bette Davis was in her 70s and used to appear on talk shows in a miniskirt, tight blouse, and heavy makeup? The whole thing was ghastly, unsettling, and embarrassing.
Watching AOL attempt to revive Netscape is like that.
I began to feel queasy as soon as I read the lead paragraphs of our article by reporter Tom Claburn: "AOL plans to relaunch its Netscape.com portal as a place where user participation is balanced by moderator control. The renovated site will feature community-driven news and user-submitted video, guided by editors called anchors. Imagine a mixture of Digg.com and YouTube.com under adult supervision."
In other words: Imagine The Sopranos without all the crime and violence.
What's appealing about Digg.com and YouTube is that they're run by the community. Adding "moderator control" will simply dilute the appeal.
Attempting to hybridize community sites with editorial control is tricky and more likely to fail than it is to succeed. We have a saying in my house: Just about any food will be improved by adding either chocolate or garlic--but just about nothing is improved by adding both.
(InformationWeek, by the way, is of course all about the editorial control. We value that. Our readers value that. We don't see that as going away. But we also value Digg and blogs, and many of our reporters and editors visit them daily. Also: Sometimes people who work in Chinese restaurants eat pizza.)
The new Netscape looks extraordinarily Digg-like. Lay them side by side and the casual user would likely have trouble telling the difference.
I have to give Netscape props for one thing, though--the Netscape and AOL items are critical of Netscape and AOL. I respect any company that's willing to go on the Internet and slag itself. On the other hand, the fact that two out of the top three stories on the site are self-referential doesn't look good. And the fact that they're negative suggests Netscape lacks confidence in its own products.
My point is that the new Netscape just has an unappealing lineup of news, weighted disproportionately to celebri-non-news. I mean, jumping Jehosaphat, does anybody still care what the stars of Dharma & Greg and Knight Rider are doing nowadays?