Netscape Update (the internal memo)

I sent this internal note to a bunch of folks at AOL earlier today… sort of an update on the state of Netscape and what we’ve learned about the 1, 19, and 80%. After thinking about it for 27 seconds I realized that this is the kind of stuff I used to post to my blog and i figured I would share with y’all.

I have to keep reminding myself that the best feedback we got at Weblogs, Inc. was when we talked about our company publicly on my blog. When you get to a big company you tend to be more closed because people smack you down just because your big. I’ve been getting smacked down since I’ve gotten to AOL as a “sellout” or “big company guy,” but I’m not going to let that change how I run my businesses. I beleive in transparency and the fact that the more you put out there the more you get back.

Sure, some folks will spin what I say as “AOL senior exec says BLAH BLAH BLAH,” but frankly that’s a small price to pay for gaining the trust of the community and the good advice they give you when you open up to them.

best j

Team AOL,

For those of you not watching the drama unfold in the social news space for the past couple of days, there has a been a big shift in people’s thinking about us paying the top social bookmarkers for the 1-3 hours a day they put into sites like digg, delicious, and Netscape. Two months ago we were “destroying the space” by paying the top 1% of the user base, now we’re considered the savvy ones who recognized that there is a real difference between the 1%, 19%, and 80% of the user populations (creatives, contributors, and consumers).

At its most basic what we’ve learned is that the top 1% of these community members deserve to get compensated for their time, and if you do compensate them they will be 1,000% more active and appreciative. Paying them isn’t about the money as much as it is the recognition, and they are so psyched to be recognized that they will really go overboard in thanking you with very high-quality work. The Netscape Navigators are doing a phenomenal job of not only putting in good stories, but also of building a community. They talk to the users via site mail and explain to them how to participate. They let them know when they’ve made a mistake and how to fix it. They are mentors and leaders in the best sense of those words.

The 1% brings in the 19%, and that 20% bring in the masses/consumption class (the 80%).

Of course, Netscape was an established brand when we converted it. So, we had the the consuming masses (the 80%) and we hired the 1% (the creatives). What we’re really working on right now is training and inspiring the middle class: the 19% we call the contributors. The folks who vote, comment, add friends, and send messages on the site. These folks are the most active portion of the masses and they are new to the social news process in many cases. We have about 1/3rd of those folks trained and we should build out our “middle-class” by the end of the year from what I can see.

I suspect this process will be the case for many of AOL’s (and Yahoo’s) user-driven projects. You’ll have the masses by default, but not the creative and contributing classes. Those are the two you’ll have to build.

So, I’m wondering if the folks on AIM pages or Uncut are seeing something similar and if similar strategies might work. Maybe Uncut should hire the top 20 video producers on YouTube to work for us? Maybe AIM Pages should hire the top 20 folks on MySpace to be part of our “leadership program” (or something like that). Have them train the user base and give feedback to the developers.

Some folks claim it’s desperate to have to pay the 1%. That’s pure *spin* by people who don’t want to pay other people for their hard work. These folks are the life-blood of these systems and paying them isn’t desperate–it’s smart. Also, paying them does not stop other folks from want to get involved from getting involved. The folks being paid have obligations they have to meet, and the other 99% can come and go as they please.

The 1% are not getting paid for exactly the same things as the 99%–which was Yochi Benkler’s big complaint about our Navigator program (he said it made the other 99% of folks into suckers). It turns out that the public understands that the Navigators have more to do than an average user (i.e. killing spam, getting rid of duplicate stories, helping users), and that they are obligated to show up for “work” every day. That last part sets the difference–the 1% we pay are obligated and the 99% are not obligated.

Anyway, just some thoughts for a Sunday.

best j

ps – here is the latest story giving us credit… i knew the tide would turn.
ps2 – votes and stories submitted broke records every 2-3 days over the last two weeks–and Netscape’s web pages are growing again. Mission *almost* accomplished. (the mission for me is to double Netscape’s traffic from the bottom out weeks of late August/ early September (when we lost the email users).

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