TechCrunch has predicted it for weeks, and despite consistent denials from AOL's management, the new digg-style Netscape.com will be no more. Instead the site will soon be switched over to a more traditional portal, a preview of which can be seen here.
Announcing the decision on the official Netscape blog, Tom Drapeau wrote:
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.
The decision to redirect the current Netscape.com site is based on that feedback and our desire to better serve our community.
I'm not too surprised to see AOL switch its prime "Netscape.com" real estate back to a more traditional portal, since it was unclear whether or not the new social news driven Netscape was ever going to be a success. From the number of votes each story gets, from the outside it never looked like Netscape.com has anything like the community numbers of Digg, the site whose model it was built on top of.
And when Jason Calacanis -- the new Netscape's instigator -- left AOL, I always felt the project became vulnerable.
So now that Calacanis has left, where does that leave Netscape?
By all accounts, Calacanis hasn't had much to do with the day-to-day running of Netscape for some time - so in the short term, I don't think it makes the slightest bit of difference. The whole point about a socially driven news site is that its well being is almost totally reliant on the community, and the community won't be shaken by Calacanis' exit. (It might be a different story if Kevin Rose abandoned Digg). In the longer term the story could be a very different one. With the Netscape experiment being only a few months old, the jury's still out. But with Calacanis leaving, Netscape has lost its chief evangelist and a heavyweight within AOL to fight it's corner. Further down the road, AOL's new management might take a quick look at the numbers - and decide it's time to pull the plug.
Pull the plug, is exactly what they've done.
The real surprise, however, is that it was only a month or two ago that Netscape launched a new version of their browser, with a number of social features that tie directly into the social news version of Netscape.com. That's a lot of engineering and marketing dollars to throw down the drain.