Techcrunch has the scoop on the new Netscape portal beta, which bears a striking resemblance to Digg. Mike thinks it's a "digg killer" and in terms of pure numbers it may well be. Netscape gets a surprising 811 million monthly page views, which digg is at around 200 M per month. But despite the Digg-ish features, the new Netscape portal is still trying to keep users onsite and also gives them less control over what content ranks highly.
The Tech frontpage. Note the top link - about the "hazards" of online collectivism.
Some points to consider:
1) The headline link is to the comments page on the Netscape site, while the actual originator of the content gets the secondary links (the 'via' link and the 'Visit the site' link, which opens up in a new window). The editors also sometimes provide commentary on the articles ("Netscape Anchor Commentary"), which tends to deflect attention away from the article itself. These are subtle things, but it's obvious the objective is to keep Netscape users inside the Netscape site. This of course exposes users to the multitude of ads on Netscape, rather than send them away to the actual sources of the content. Seems a bit portal-ish to me.
2) While users votes count in determining what gets displayed, Netscape editors (aka "anchors") choose what gets to the top of the front pages. Will they favor mainstream publications? Will they not promote anti-AOL stories? Will they... etc etc. You can see how this might open up any number of claims of bias.
3) Generally speaking I'm not convinced about the relative merits of editors/anchors over the more democratic (but admittedly problematic at times) 'wisdom of the crowd'. I noticed this comment from Jason Calacanis on the 'Hazards' story:
"[...] what we're doing with Netscape is exactly what he's looking for: an editorial voice to balance the hive mind. Our Anchors are the balance to the limitations of the crowd--and vica versa!"
While I've been as vocal as anyone about the mob mentality occasionally shown at digg - I wonder whether the opposite approach of using editors to determine ranking and lead discussions is really the answer for so-called community sites. It's inherently less democratic, even if it ends up being more effective. I guess time will tell, but at the very least it's an interesting experiment. I can't see any current Digg users defecting, but perhaps Digg should hurry up with those new features it's been promising!