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Netscape Site Revamp Looks Familiar to Some

If you visit Netscape.com and think you've gone to community-driven news site Digg.com instead, you didn't goof.

Time-Warner, which held on to the Netscape.com portal even after AOL shed the Netscape browser, plans to relaunch the portal with a more community-driven content style that looks a little too similar to another site for some people's tastes namely Digg.

Netscape.com has taken a significant hit in the past year, dropping from 700 million page views per day in July 2005 to around 200 million now, according to Web traffic site Alexa.com, and plummeting in rank from 75 to 312.

To revitalize the site, AOL has revamped and launched a beta version of the site where users vote for the top stories and there's a ranking box right next to the story, just like Digg.com. The final version of the new Netscape.com will go live on July 1.

However, Time-Warner, the parent of Netscape, said there are differences. Whereas Digg.com and Slashdot, one of the originators of user-driven story aggregation, are focused on technology stories, the new Netscape.com will have 30 different categories covering all sorts of news. However, Digg.com is promising to expand beyond technology stories.

The fundamental difference between the two is that Netscape will add an editorial layer consisting of eight full-time and 15 part time editors, called "anchors," who will look into the veracity of each story and add a comment below the link to the story, saying the story is dubious in its veracity, there's more information since the original story, or that it's bogus.

Letting the user base vote up stories makes for great social interaction but has its drawbacks, said Andrew Weinstein, a spokesman for AOL . "Users tend to promote sensationalist, incomplete, inaccurate or wrong stories," he said. "So what Netscape set out to do was combine [user-driven stories] with old school journalism."

He specifically cited that a story claiming Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy would be fired was pushed to the top of Digg three times, and that the Netscape anchors would prevent this from happening. Heading up the team of editors will be Jason Calacanis, founder of blogging network Weblogs, which AOL purchased in 2005.

Digg's co-founders aren't buying it. "What's mission critical to Digg is the neutrality and the complete lack of editorial supervision," said Jay Adelson, co-founder of the company. "There's never intervention by editors or censors to highlight or otherwise draw attention to anything they particularly like. That is the whole point of Digg."

Stories can be voted to the top of the heap on Netscape, but the firm adds a more complex formula to the means for choosing top stories than just votes. Time, user comments, click throughs and forwards all combine to determine the value of a story, said Weinstein.

There will also be the social element of letting people link stories to their friends and see the articles their friends are reading and voting on. It will also have YouTube support, where people can upload their own video links, syndicate their links to other sites and let Netscape users vote on the videos to determine their popularity.

Weinstein said the new look wasn't meant to rip off Digg or harm the site. "Truthfully, I think this is elevating all social media sites, and these two are very complimentary," he said. "Digg is very technology focused, this is a broad consumer interest portal."

"I appreciate what Netscape is trying to do by adding a journalistic layer on top of the social concept, but it's basically Digg with moderators," said Ed Oswald, senior writer with Betanews.com.

Reader reaction on Betanews has been negative, but he attributes that to the bad feelings toward Netscape itself, which had its shot and failed as a browser company and is now trying to revive itself while other browser companies pass it by.

Oswald did say that Digg does need some kind of moderation "because there is a real risk of false news getting out." In the end, though, he feels the new Netscape is "an improved ripoff. They took the concept of Digg and improved it."

Digg's other co-founder Kevin Rose joked "My personal opinion is they're going to wish they waited a week because we're launching our new interface next week."