Netscape a year later…

It’s a year or so since we reinvented Netscape as a social news portal. While it hasn’t broken out to the level of digg, it has take the slot right behind digg with 10M unique users a month. Also, the activity on the site in terms of number of stories, votes, and comments is just amazing.

It sucks when you have to leave a project five months after starting it, and I know if I was still at the helm we could have evolved the site much quicker. Now, that’s not a dig(g) the my old team running it over there now, they are doing a great job*. However, I was higher up in the AOL organization and was given autonomy… they have bosses and process to deal with.

New projects like Netscape need complete autonomy–something big companies are not designed for. I give Bankoff, Leonsis, and Miller a lot of credit for giving it to me and my team because, as you can see, TimeWarner owns the second largest social news site, they spent very little to built it, and it has huge potential upside in year two. I really hope they stick with it…. the second year is when things break out, not the the first.

If some day Mahalo gets to AOL level, I’m certainly going to remember the lesson of autonomy when we have projects growing internally.

If I was Jerry Yang right now I would take my five smartest people and thell them to each select three people from within Yahoo and build something new. I’d give them 20% of the value of that new thing with an independent valuation company, put them in a lab away from everyone on campus, and see what develops. Seriously, you’re gonna lose the folks from startups like MyBlogLog, Flickr, and Delicious at some point anyway… why not “lose” them to your venture incubator. Maybe they’re doing this sort of thing already.

Anyway, what I’m most proud of is that the new category of work we created–being a Navigator (or now Scout)–has become a viable career…. almost. There are 37 folks getting paid to manage the social network.

Derek, one of the top user on digg when I recruited him, sums up his one-year anniversary:

  • Today is my 366th day as a Netscape Navigator Scout. One year later, they’re still paying people for social bookmarking on the interweb.

    When Jason Calacanis put out the call for top social media contributors to come and contribute to Netscape for $1,000/month, many people (including myself) scoffed at the idea. They said he was trying to buy a community for Netscape, anyone who took him up was a sell-out/traitor, etc.

    At the time, I was a top contributor on Digg. When I realized it would be pretty cool to get paid for doing something that I would be doing anyway, some of my contacts on Digg were skeptical. They said it would end up feeling like a job, that the capitalism would corrupt my hobby and I would lose interest, that I would quit within 3 months.

    Well, perhaps needless to say, none of that happened. My enthusiasm for social news has not waned in the least. It has been an invaluable experience for a number of reasons, perhaps most important of which is it gave me a part-time job that allowed me to quit my day job and focus on my own startup, which recently launched its first product.

We created a new category of work back in 2003 called blogging. Folks didn’t think that would work out.

Then we created the social networking category of work–jury is still out on that one, but it’s looking good.

Right now we’ve got another new category of work… it’s called “serping,” but that’s for another post.

* I do believe the team is doing a great job. However, I think that the benchmark for things on the homepage has slipped considerably. You can’t let press releases, blogspot spam blogs of unknown origin, etc. make it to the homepage. You just can’t. I would block more stories and be hard-core about the “We’re a news site” angle. However, that’s just me.

[ Note: I’m very much enjoying comment-free blogging. I highly suggest everyone take a week off from comments to see how it feels. It’s better. I don’t know why, but it is. The folks commenting on my stuff ON THEIR BLOGS are taking so much more time and consideration when talking about issues it seems…. I’m not getting the drive-by puking freaks looking to hate on anything. Life is grand. ]