Netscape is finally dead, thank God

So AOL — known in the bad old days as America Online — has finally decided to remove the life-support equipment from Netscape Navigator and allow the browser to die in peace. As Mike Masnick notes over at Techdirt, plenty of people would no doubt be surprised to hear that AOL is still making Netscape at all, let alone putting it on ice. The tide of history has long since passed the venerable old browser by, and it is now like a relic from the Stone Age, sitting next to modern skyscrapers.

Even when AOL was still working on the browser, it was obvious that Netscape was already a museum piece. The last time I used it, everything from the user interface to the features themselves seemed either quaint or like an attempt to tart up something old to make it seem shiny and new, like putting a coat of neon paint on an old lawnmower, or watching an old man try to break-dance. But like Mike Arrington, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Netscape.

Navigator was the first real browser I ever used, although I had tried its precessor Mosaic a few times, as well as a few other early browsers from Booklink (which AOL eventually bought) and others. I remember the logo with the wheel from a ship, and the big N that sat in the upper corner of the browser window and glowed as the websites were being loaded. And I remember creating a “Netdex” Internet stock index for the Globe and Mail in 1995 when Netscape went public.

It was fun to watch Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark get the jump on Microsoft, and beat the bulky and ridiculous Internet Explorer. But then something terrible happened: IE got better and better, and Netscape started to get bigger and more bloated. By Netscape 5 it was actually a pain to download and use — IE was faster and in many ways better. And then came Mozilla, which changed the browser market again.

Mozilla became everything Netscape wasn’t: fast, easy to use, infinitely extendable, and secure in a way IE couldn’t hope to be. I switched a few years ago and have never looked back.

Netscape packs bags, moves to Propeller

My friend Muhammad Saleem — a top Netscape submitter — just dropped me a note to say that the former Digg-style Netscape social-news site will be reborn at some future date at a site called Propeller.com. Tom Drapeau has a somewhat lacklustre post on the move over at the Netscape blog (at least Jason Calacanis knew how to market something with a little energy).

Muhammad — who was more than a little ticked at Mike Arrington and others for what he saw as an overreaction to the news that Netscape was changing — says he likes the branding. I’m okay with it, for what it’s worth, but I’m not clear on what Propeller is supposed to convey really. There’s also no timeline on when the site will go live, which kind of makes me wonder why they bothered. Why not wait until it’s ready to go?

I know Muhammad thinks people rang the death knell for Netscape too early, but I still wonder how many people are going to switch over to the new site. For whatever reason, I think the name Netscape had a certain drawing power, and it got lots of traffic in part because it used to be a portal. To start over with a new site and name is going to be an uphill climb, I think.

AOL euthanizes Digg-style Netscape

Although we had some advance warning that this might be happening — courtesy of a post from Mike Arrington at TechCrunch that was denied by Netscape at the time — it’s still kind of sad that AOL is pulling the plug on its social-news experiment at Netscape.com.

The note at the Netscape site says that the Digg-style interface is merely moving to another location (Mike said he heard reports that it would be wow.com, another AOL-owned site). But it seems obvious that interest in the idea is waning, and the focus has shifted back to making Netscape into the news portal it used to be, primarily for the ad dollars. According to the site:

“We received some feedback that people really do associate the Netscape brand with providing mainstream news that is editorially controlled. In fact, we specifically heard that our users do have a desire for a social news experience, but simply didn’t expect to find it on Netscape.com.”

I know there will be a lot of gloating over this move — particularly from those who don’t like Jason Calacanis — but I think it’s unfortunate. Even if it was in essence a “Digg-clone,” I still think (as I have said from the beginning) that Netscape introduced some useful features to the social media model, including the use of editors to promote and add to stories, and the somewhat controversial decision to pay top submitters.

For whatever reason, Netscape just never seemed to be able to get much traction, so we will never know if any of those features makes sense for a social news site — and that’s a shame.

Update:

Muhammad Saleem, a Netscape “scout,” says in his post on the announcement that he’s shocked at how some blogs have mis-reported the news as the closure of Netscape — and he has a point. But I think even if the site remains at a different location, it seems obvious that its star has dimmed somewhat in the AOL universe, as HMTKSteve notes in his comment at Muhammad’s blog.

Diggers will find a way to get paid

(Cross-posted from my media blog)

If nothing else, Jason Calacanis did one thing while he was running the revamped Netscape.com: By hiring away some of the top users at Digg, he ignited a debate about whether to compensate the top submitters to a “social media” site. Digg co-founder Kevin Rose said that he would never pay top Diggers because it would ruin the open and social nature of the site, and I tend to agree with him (I wrote about it here and here).

But now, according to Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests, some of the top Diggers have found other ways of getting compensated — including getting paid by companies under the table for submitting their pages to the social-media site. Several top submitters have reportedly been approached by companies to submit pages in return for money, and have done so. Some have been paid per submission, others on a kind of retainer, and some have received bonuses if a submission makes it to the front page.

bribery.jpg

This kind of thing is even more underhanded than PayPerPost, the company that pays bloggers to write about clients, but doesn’t require them to disclose it. But Tony says that some of the Diggers justify their illicit salaries by saying “If Kevin Rose isn’t going to pay me for my time, maybe someone else will.” Tony says that this reminds him of Third World countries where government officials take bribes in part because they are paid so little to do their jobs.

All of this tends (although I hate to admit it) to support my friend Rob Hyndman’s contention that top Diggers should be compensated because what they do is effectively work, and that Jason Calacanis recognized that and rewarded it (Rob’s thoughts can be found in the comments here, and in his post here). My argument has always been that Diggers get rewarded in other ways that are non-financial — they get bragging rights, for example, and the admiration of their peers, which in some cases is worth more than money.

But Rob’s point is that this shouldn’t preclude them getting paid as well. And obviously, some top Diggers agree, to the point where they are willing to take what amount to bribes to submit things. To some extent, this is probably inevitable — if there is a system, someone will find a way to game it. My friend Muhammad Saleem, who is a top contributor to Digg and also a paid contributor to Netscape, has some perspective on this phenomenon that is also worth reading.

Update:

Steve O’Hear, who writes a blog on social media for ZDNet, wrote something asking whether Digg users should be compensated, and then submitted his piece to Digg. It got about 90 Diggs and 40 comments, and made it to the front page — but then it suddenly disappeared.

Jason Calacanis, ex-Netscape supremo, comments on the Digg payola story (finally). Ane now he’s paying people $100 for evidence of Diggers who are being paid by marketing companies.

Jason Calacanis escapes from AOHell

Erstwhile Weblogs Inc. supremo and Netscape revamper Jason Calacanis has confirmed on his blog that he has left AOL, in the wake of the departure of Jon Miller, whom he described as his “mentor.” As he told the New York Times in a brief interview: “I’m not inclined to start over with a new guy.” Mike Arrington had the news first on TechCrunch — except it wasn’t news, it was only a rumour. I wonder if Mike is a little bent about the fact that Jason gave his first official comments to the Old Grey Lady. And I thought Jason was all about the new media. I wrote about what I think Jason should do here, and my friend Rob Hyndman has some thoughts here.