Old vs. New Netscape (or “if you could change GeoCities into MySpace in 2002 would you have?”)

There is a short story in the NYT today about a small, but vocal, group of Netscape users who don’t like the new, more interactive, Netscape. The story explains that a petition has been started to change the new Netscape back to the old Netscape where we (AOL) programmed the experience.

There is one piece of misinformation in the story: that we tried to silence the folks doing the petition by not letting them vote up negative Netscape stories on the new Netscape–that’s simply not true. We’ve had a dozen negative stories about Netscape on the home page–just like DIGG has–and we understand that part of running a social news site is that your user base will use the site itself to talk to you. In fact, any negative story on AOL, Netscape, or myself immediatly goes to the number one position.

That’s the price you pay for letting folks take control–they actually do it!

I think some folks don’t understand that there is a window in which a story can remain on the homepage (just over a day). We do this so the news stays fresh (i.e. when you come back 24 hours later it’s not the same self-propogating list stuck at the top level).

I respect the fact that a group of folks liked the original home page better, and they don’t want to participate in the new social news site–it’s not for everyone. However, this is a very small percentage of the over millions of unique users who come to Netscape, and for AOL there is a very strategic reason for evolving Netscape.com. That reason is we already have a professionally programmed portal in AOL.COM! Also, we told the users about the change for a month, but some folks I think ignored or missed the messaging. That’s a big take away here: over communicate with your members (oh wait, I put this in a recent post–I guess I need to take more of my own advice). If I were to do this again I would put a message that blocked users from visiting the site until they had read a note about the upcoming changes. Live and learn.

Additionally, the fact was that the majority of users were not sticking with the old Netscape. A quick look at the stats (not Alexia please–it doesn’t count the Netscape browser–where a large percentage of our traffic comes from) shows that Netscape lost 1/3rd of its audience over the past year.

So, we lost a third of the audience by not changing the site, and now by changing we’re going to lose a very small percentage, but be back on a growth path.

Look at it this way: if Geocities could change itself to MySpace before losing it’s marketshare to MySpace you would do that right?

Same thing here, we’re in the middle of paradigm shift from top-down control to bottom-up participation, and when you make a radical change like that you’re gonna get pushback. In fact, I’m really excited to see the pushback because it let’s me know we are on the right track.

Any new service is gonna get folks who don’t like it. The more radical or forward looking an idea is the more folks are gonna be shocked by it–and this is a radical (but soon-to-be established) concept.

We anticipated in our projections that a large percentage of the audience might not like the new portal (double digits) and we’re well below that (single digits)–so, I think we did a good job. When you change the menu at your restaurant some folks are gonna like the old menu better… we understand that and we’re sorry we can’t maintain two versions of the site forever–but this is a business and we have to grow it. For those folks the AOL.COM portal is still providing the classic portal experience with a massive amount of new stuff including a ton of video and programmed news.

It is ironic, of course, that some folks are voting for *less* interactivity and control, but I understand it. I don’t want the New York Times to be a social news site… I think.

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