A Request by the Netscape Community to Bring Back Our Netscape.com

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For several years, I have been a loyal customer of Netscape and a frequent visitor to www.netscape.com. I found it an excellent portal page where I could quickly overview the latest news headlines, access my email, and peruse the latest stock quotes, all in a matter of minutes. It was much to my dismay, then, that I recently visited the Netscape homepage and discovered that they had completely overhauled their site in favor of attempting to capitalize on the latest Internet fad: voter-based social news.

I strongly feel the new Netscape.com does not serve the needs of many long-time Netscape users, and I believe that many of us wish for the old Netscape.com to return. As has been repeated many times by my fellow Netscape users in response to this change: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." If you share the same desire that I do to bring back the old Netscape.com, then I urge you to sign this petition in the hopes that the voice of the Netscape community can be heard. It is ironic that in their haste to promote a "community-driven" website, the persons in charge of Netscape.com failed to properly consult the Netscape community which has served them for many years. Now, by signing this petition, you can help make your opinion be heard.

Below, I outline some criticisms of arguments advanced by supporters of the new Netscape.com and some serious reservations regarding the social news phenomenon in general.

It has been said by supporters of the new Netscape.com that "The old Netscape.com was rapidly losing visitors and revenue. A change had to be made." It is not surprising that the old Netscape.com was losing traffic to competitors such as MSN.com and Yahoo.com. However, I do not believe that the loss in traffic was related to the format of Netscape.com itself. Rather, it seems more likely that the loss of traffic was due simply to the continued decline in popularity of the Netscape browser relative to alternatives such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, and even Opera. This, of course, has the effect of changing the default homepage of many Internet users away from Netscape.com, many of whom are disinclined to change back simply because they don't know how or are under the impression that the identity of a browser is intrinsically linked to its default homepage.

The decline in popularity of the Netscape browser does not suggest that the solution is to change the format of Netscape.com. Rather, it seems a more effective strategy to combat the loss of traffic is to increase the visibility of the Netscape browser and the services that Netscape offers. Why not try and make the Netscape browser a real player again in the browser space, instead of being relegated to a has-been? This would clearly increase traffic to Netscape.com. One might argue that it's fruitless to take on Microsoft's IE/MSN juggernaut, but hasn't Firefox done exactly that? This seems particularly ironic, given how the origin of the Firefox browser was so closely related to Netscape. In addition, Yahoo enjoys significant exposure to their site through their partnership with AT&T and their AT&T-Yahoo DSL service. Netscape has an ISP service, but how many people use it? Why not take a similar strategy and try and establish a parternership with a telco company to increase the visibility of its ISP, which would naturally drive traffic to Netscape.com?

Changing the format of Netscape.com addresses none of the problems described above. In fact, it may very well alienate a large portion of the Netscape.com userbase. There is no doubt the orchestrators of the new Netscape.com were motivated by the success of Digg, www.digg.com. However, there are two reasons which I feel will hinder the replication of this success by Netscape:

1. Unlike the new Netscape, Digg did not start with a large, loyal, existing userbase (us!) that was used to a very different news format. I argue that having this pre-existing userbase, used to a traditional news format, is worse than starting from scratch. We have seen many websites come from nowhere and build a userbase based on the quality of their services: Flickr, del.icio.us, YouTube, and of course, Digg. Netscape hopes that all of its pre-existing traffic will be converted to the new Netscape.com, but this is a double-edged sword: if these users are unhappy with the new Netscape.com, then they will make their displeasure be known and generate a large amount of criticism and negative publicity. This has already proved to be the case, as the two most popular stories since the new Netscape has come out of beta have been ones which are very critical of the new format. If all this negative opinion leads to users leaving Netscape, as many users have already claimed to have done, then stories about how the new Netscape actually caused an increase in the loss of traffic will create a negative perception that will be difficult to overcome.

2. Digg's userbase is young and overwhelmingly male (94\%), while Netscape's audience skews older and is much more gender-balanced. This has been argued to be an advantage of the new Netscape, since it is "bringing social news to the masses." However, this argument overlooks the possibility that the demographics of Digg are no coincidence, and that its social news format is serving exactly the audience that wants it. The premise of a social news site is that its users scour stories from all corners of the Internet and vote on those which they find interesting. It's a fascinating paradigm, but it requires much greater involvement from its users, and doesn't lend itself well to users who just want the most important news of the day in a quick and easily digestible format. Guess what? Young Internet afficianados who spend a great deal of their time on the web are the ones who are most likely to participate in such a social news system, and it is perhaps not surprising that such people are largely male. The typical Netscape user, who is likely older and works a regular job, perhaps checks out the site for a few minutes throughout the day on their lunch or coffee break. Not many of us are going to be seeking out stories on other sites for other people to read. Why not just go to a different site which has editors who do that work for us?

Social news does a good job of finding quirky little stories that would be overlooked by a traditional news outlet. However, it is largely inefficient at presenting important, reliable, and accurate stories in an organized manner. The addition of anchors is an interesting idea, but so far has seemed to have little effect on the overall discourse of the site.

It is a testament to the quality of the old Netscape.com that I continued to use it as my default homepage long after I switched to Internet Explorer, and now Firefox. However, if Netscape continues to support its new "social news" homepage, I will be regrettably forced to seek out a new homepage to serve my needs. Stopgap alternatives such as isp.netscape.com or My Netscape are simply not sufficient or comparable to the old Netscape.com. If you share my sentiments about bringing back the old Netscape.com, then I encourage you to sign this petition and allow your wishes to be heard. I humbly hope that I have adequately expressed your frustrations and concerns with regards to the change in Netscape.com, and I hope that this petition provides us all with a vehicle to express our voice as longstanding members of the Netscape community.