Late yesterday afternoon, a TechCrunch blogger insisted that he had just heard Netscape's death rattle. According to Michael Arrington
, AOL was on the verge of killing off this very site "and redirecting traffic to the Netscape portal instead. One source says it's a done deal. Another says no final decisions have been made." Arrington also reported that the editorial department was "completely freaked out" and that the site would be going black just about any minute now.
Gloomy news indeed--if any of it were substantiated. As the head of the non-freaked-out editorial department, let me say a few things. AOL did just launch a Netscape-branded portal, designed to accommodate those members who don't wish to participate in a social news site. (Those members also have the option of using a personalized portal over at My.Netscape, not to mention the regular AOL portal itself.) No doubt some members will jump ship. But since the social news version of Netscape launched more than a year ago, most of the people with a yen for an old-fashioned portal have already left. Certainly the 323,589 individuals (as of this moment) who have joined the community didn't do so simply to check the weather and headlines.
Our director, Tom Drapeau, already responded to Arrington's post on TechCrunch itself. So did Marcien Jenckes, identified by TC as an "AOL spokesman" but actually a senior vice president in charge of some of the company's premiere properties, including AIM and Userplane.
"I want to echo Tom's post," noted Jenckes. "Community has been a core element of both AOL and Netscape since their inception and will continue to be. As the text on the site explains, we wanted to give a more traditional portal alternative to the Netscape users who requested it. You can rest assured that social news will continue to be an important part of what we do."
Arrington was quick to assail this comment for its vagueness. But he knows as well as we do that corporations--especially corporations as large as AOL--move in mysterious ways. They are hotbeds of rumor. Can we say with absolute certainty that our corporate parent will or will not pull the plug on us? Of course not. But neither can Arrington ("no final decisions have been made"), and neither can his sources, who he declined to identify.
Here at Netscape, we prefer to dwell on the good news. With millions of unique visitors per month, the site is the focus of a growing, enthusiastic community. We have major design initiatives on the schedule for the next year, and will continue to respond to feedback from our large, energetic, sometimes rambunctious membership. We're still here. Should that change, our community will be the first to know.