You would think that someone like me — being a journalist and all — would have a pretty good idea what journalism is and what it isn’t. But I have to confess that something like the new Netscape beta created by Jason Calacanis and his team, which launched this morning and promptly caused an implosion of commentary on techmeme, has me stumped.
In a way, it’s a lot easier to dismiss Digg and its ilk, as Nick Carr and others have been more than happy to do, slamming it as the “hive mind” and all that sort of rubbish. But Jason’s rather brilliant move (I hate to add to the already legendary Calacanis ego, but I can’t help myself) is to add blogger/journalists who contribute comments, links and in some cases reporting to the stories as they develop. Okay, calling them “anchors” is dumb, but the idea is compelling. Take the stories people are talking about, add commentary and links, interview some people to advance the story — that sounds like journalism to me.
But is it “real” journalism? I don’t have a clue. It certainly is interesting though — and things are going to get even more interesting when Digg launches its revamped site later this month, which will extend the Digg/Slashdot model to other types of news apart from just technology. Will it be as successful, or is there something about tech and the geeks who follow it that makes something like Digg or Reddit or Slashdot only useful for technology-related news?
There are other sites in the same kind of space Jason is trying to fill, including Gather and Newsvine.com, but it’s hard to tell how those services are doing, or whether they have what VCs love to call “traction.” One of the things that Netscape brings to the table — and it’s not inconsequential by any means — is the tens of millions of existing AOL ssubscribers (although they have been fleeing by the millions every year), and the 800 million page views or whatever they generate. That’s no guarantee of success, however.
There are plenty of things not to like about the Netscape site, including all the annoying ads and the fact that the story links make you go to another Netscape page, and then further disguise the link to the actual story, which is the sort of roach motel crap that people rightly hate. But still, all in all I would agree with my friend Rob Hyndman and IPDemocracy that it’s an interesting effort, and one worth watching.
And I will just add in passing that the last time I looked, Jason Calacanis had posted a total of more than 120 comments on stories at Netscape, many of them responding to criticisms — and he has posted many more on various blogs (including Rob’s). You can’t accuse him of resting on his laurels.