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Into the chasm!

July 11, 2006

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.


I don't know how small the blogging, flickring and youtubeing slice of the population is. But I think they're getting more and more divided from the rest.
Some time ago I made a small cartoon about this.


Posted by: Oliver Widder at July 11, 2006 06:06 PM

The tech crowd gets value from participating in tech news because it is part of their job description to discover and be involved in tech products.

Ordinary people get little value from participation in daily news because they know that editing the news is someone else's work. If your down the coal mine all day the last thing you want to do when you come home is help a site owner edit his site for free.

Posted by: Mark Devlin at July 11, 2006 09:29 PM

At another journalists/citizen journalists conference last week, alot of us seemed to agree about how people get their news from a number of different kinds of sites and sources (much to the chagrin of some newspaper folks.) Lots of adults (re: people with real jobs and not alot of time) like to get the most and best information on the news their reading from trusted sources--and *then* consider opinion sources. They don't necessarily want to rate the news themselves nor read only opinions.

It's amazing how real life can creep in and slow down one's blogging, niche participation, and general internet use.

Still, what makes so many people think a niche-y social-networking site like Digg could be a one-size fits all for the rest of the world? Perhaps it's the short-sightedness of very persuasive yet desperate marketing consultants?? It will indeed be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Posted by: Tish Grier at July 12, 2006 11:24 AM

Guys, a small clarification:

The question is not whether regular people have always wanted to vote on news stories - the question is whether regular people will appreciate the output caused by some small subset of their peers voting on which news stories get the most airplay.

To draw a parallel with Amazon - just because the vast majority of us don't take the time to review a book or movie on Amazon doesn't make Amazon user reviews a miserable failure. In fact, many would consider Amazon's reviews an important part of their success.

With Amazon, few contribute, but many benefit. I'm not saying that Netwscape news will play out the same way, but it might.

So just to flash back to 1996 - I'm sure there were those who poked fun at Amazon with:

"Hey, honey, look at this - you can vote for books and movies on Amazon! Ain't that Internet something!"

And that turned out all right.

Posted by: lawrence at July 13, 2006 02:09 PM

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