AOL's Netscape Web Portal Morphs Into 'Social News' Site

AOL has retooled its Netscape.com portal as a "social news" website where users and Netscape.com staffers can post, vote for, tag and review articles.

With this move, AOL is following a model similar to the one popularized by the technology news-oriented Digg.com and by the politics-focused Memeorandum.com, but with some twists and with a broader and more mainstream audience in mind.

The new Netscape.com, which goes into public beta on Thursday, will complement its "social news" core functionality with features borrowed from social bookmarking services, such as the posting of favorite website links, as well as from social networking sites, such as the creation of friends lists, and from video-sharing sites, such as letting users upload videos. Users will have multiple options for subscribing to content on the site via RSS.

Netscape.com will also have a staff of "anchors" performing journalistic tasks, such as choosing stories to feature, commenting on articles and doing research and reporting about chosen stories. These staffers are called anchors because their job will be to provide a level of journalistic oversight, steering discussions and molding content, but not editing the featured articles.

"We’re basically taking social bookmarking and making it into social news and using meta journalism to do that," said Jason Calacanis, a blogging pioneer who is chief executive officer of Weblogs, an AOL subsidiary.

Initially, Netscape.com will have eight full-time and 15 part-time anchors who will also host chat rooms to interact with visitors on real time. If a big story breaks, such as a natural disaster of major proportions like Hurricane Katrina, AOL will dispatch Netscape.com anchors to the scene of the action to report via online video.

Having these anchors overseeing the site will make Netscape.com a more orderly and responsible news site than those that are purely driven by technology and by end users, where posted content can often be inaccurate and even libelous, Calacanis said.

Netscape.com is currently a Web portal similar to AOL.com, Yahoo’s Yahoo.com and Microsoft’s MSN.com. Its new incarnation as a social news site will be in public testing at until July 1.

-Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service (Miami Bureau)

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