Category Archives: Netscape

under the influence

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting (and free) piece on a new class of individuals — filters, recommenders, editors, curators, call them what you will — that is becoming increasingly influential in directing attention traffic across the Web. The article focuses primarily on top link hounds at user-filtered news sites like Digg, Reddit and the newly reborn Netscape, sites whose aggregate tastemaking muscle has caught the attention of marketers and product placers, who have made various efforts to buy influence through elaborate vote-rigging schemes and good old-fashioned payola. The article also makes mention of some notable solo filtering acts including a regular stop of mine,, a video archive operated by a young Canadian named Jeff Hoard. At the end of the piece there’s a list with links of other important “influencers.”
While I was reading this I kept thinking of Time Magazine’s “The Person of the Year is You”, which caused a minor stir last December with its cover containing a little mirror in a YouTube-like screen. On one level the piece was simple trend-spotting, a comment on the phenomenon (undoubtedly reaching new heights in ’06) of social media production. But it could also be read as a thinly camouflaged corporate memo announcing big media’s awakening to the potentially enormous profits of an ad-based media network in which the users do all the work of filtering. And it’s precisely the sorts of “influencers” in this WSJ piece that are the “you” on which they are hoping to capitalize. The “you” that convinced Google that $1.8 billion was a price worth paying for YouTube, or Rupert Murdoch a half billion for MySpace (I would have liked to have heard more in the article about the way this phenomenon is playing out on these two sites through the video “channels” and friend networks).
It all adds up to a pretty astonishing redefinition of what “the media” is. The front page, the lead story, the primetime lineup — all in constant renegotiation, constantly rearranged. Yet still in so many ways dependent on the established sources for the materials to be filtered (and probably in the future for personal income, as is already beginning). Feeders and filterers. The new media ecology doesn’t destroy the old one, it absorbs it into a new relationship.

a better boom?

An editorial in today’s New York Times by The Search author Jon Battelle makes the argument that the current resurgence in technology stocks is not the sign of another technology “bubble,” but rather an indication that companies have finally figured out how to capitalize on the internet. Batelle writes:
… we are witnessing the Web’s second coming, and it’s even got a name, “Web 2.0” – although exactly what that moniker stands for is the topic of debate in the technology industry. For most it signifies a new way of starting and running companies – with less capital, more focus on the customer and a far more open business model when it comes to working with others. Archetypal Web 2.0 companies include Flickr, a photo sharing site; Bloglines, a blog reading service; and MySpace, a music and social networking site.
In other words, Batelle is pointing out that one way to “get it right” is not to sell content to users, but rather to give them the opportunity to create and search their own content. This is not only good business sense, he says, it’s also more enlightened — the creators of social software such as Flickr are motivated equally by a desire to “do good in the world” and a desire to make money. “The culture of Web 2.0 is, in fact, decidedly missionary,” Batelle writes, “from the communitarian ethos of Craigslist to Google’s informal motto, ‘don’t be evil.'”
O.K. Doing good while making money. Reading this, I’m reminded of Paul Hawken’s Natural Capitalism and the larger sustainability movement — the optimistic philosophy that weaves together environmental ethics and profitability. But is that what’s really going on here? Isn’t the “missionary” culture of the internet a bit OLDER than Web 2.0? Batelle is suggesting that Internet capitalists have gotten all misty and utopian; isn’t it the case that some of the folks who were already misty and utopian have just started making some money?
I guess the more viable comparison here would be to Marc Andreessen’s decision to transform his Mosaic browser from its public-domain University of Illinois incarnation into the Netscape Browser. Andreessen certainly started out as a browser missionary — and, like the companies Batelle sees as characteristic of Internet 2.0, Andreessen’s vision for Netscape (and in the beginning, Jim Clark’s vision as well) was a strong customer focus and open business model. What happened? Netscape’s meteoric success helped inflate the internet “bubble” Batelle’s referring to, and in the end, after the long battle with Microsoft, the company’s misfortunes helped to burst that bubble as well.
So what paradigm fits? Is “Internet 2.0” really new and more socially enlightened? Or are we just seeing a group of social software businesses — and one big search engine — just in the early stages of an inevitable transformation into corporations that are less interested in doing good than making money?
Incidentally, last month, Marc Andressen launched a social networking platform called Ning.