Richard MacManus continues to chronicle the angry response of the Netscape faithful to Jason Calacanis’s reworking of the venerable portal’s home page into a Digg-style participative news aggregation thingy. He compares it to the disastrous introduction of New Coke some 20 years ago. “It certainly looks like the people have spoken,” writes MacManus. “And they’re not happy. Will the new Netscape go the way of the New Coke? Or will Calacanis and crew get over this hurdle and convince a good portion of those 12 million users to stick around? Judging by the comments on my previous post, many of them seem to be already migrating to MSN and Yahoo.”
Now, it may well be that all those pissed-off Netscape customers are just going through a crankypants phase and soon they’ll come to understand that, though they never realized it before, they’ve always really wanted to vote for news stories rather than just read them. “Hey, honey, look at this – you can vote for news stories! Ain’t that Internet something!” They’ll “get it,” in other words, and all will be happy again in Web 2.0 land. But I doubt it. I mean, let’s face it: Only a small, select slice of the population is likely to dig Digg. Most people have better things to do. And I have a sneaky suspicion that the same goes for most other examples of participative media, from blogs to tags to wikis to whatever. They’re niche-y. Now, there’s no shame in that. You can build great businesses with niche products – as long as you don’t start overreaching.
In the end, we may come to see the Netscape debacle as a seminal moment for Web 2.0, or at least the participative media side of Web 2.0. To put it into Geoffrey Moore’s terms, the remaking of Netscape seems like the first real attempt to take Web 2.0 across the chasm, from the little land of enthusiasts and early adopters to the big world of the pragmatic mainstream. The risk in trying to cross the chasm, of course, is that if you don’t make it, it’s ugly.