Rafat Ali reports on the Netscape memetracker relaunch, which is just the first of a spate of news in the memetracker space:
[from Netscape.com To Be Relaunched As a Digg-Like Site; Calacanis Heading It]
The storied Netscape.com will be revived again by AOL, and will relaunch soon as a Digg-like user-driven news/aggregation site with Jason Calacanis at the helm, sources have told paidContent.org. Some Netscape-Calacanis rumors first surfaced on SV gossip site Valleywag.
The original Netscape division has been more than decimated over the last few years and layoffs have been almost routine these last few months. The new Netscape.com will be headed by Calacanis, who came in through AOL’s acquisition of Weblogs Inc. Not clear what role Weblogs, Inc.’s blogs would play but both divisions would report in Calacanis, according to the sources. He already reports to Jim Bankoff, executive VP of Programming & Products, who would also oversee the Netscape.com changes.
Calacanis has been a big Digg fan and has written about it on his blog a few times. He has yet to respond to our query about these details, but said on his own blog in response to rumours: “There are no details to share right now, but if that changes I’ll certainly let you know.”
What is not clear is whether the new Netscape will stick to just technology news aggregation like Digg, or go the general consumer route. The latter seems the most likely.
Jason has demonstrated a good ability to serve up what consumers want, a la Engadget, and ‘gets’ what makes Digg work: the wisdom of crowds, or perhaps, the positive feedback loops in mob dynamics.
Don’t get me wrong: positive feedback, unchecked, can be a not nice thing. It just sounds good. The known problems of memetrackers — the “heaping on” behavior of authors or participants can polarize the system, biases in the majority can lead to dissenting perspectives being squelched, new voices are shut out — are likely to be an ongoing issue for anyone moving in the space.
The dynamics of memetrackers — which stories that are breaking, what announcements are racing through the blogosphere, whose new insights are being discussed — represnts a critical turning point in media, demonstrated by the growing importance of the Diggs, memeorandums, and Tailranks out there.
It’s the algorithm, the machine, harnessed to the collective insights of a body of people, that is replacing the editorial management of media. Instead of the CNN newsteam deciding what’s hot, tech.memeorandum’s machinery moves certain hot stories to the top of the page, or the activities of a handful of folks at Digg leads to a cascade on interest in a new product announcement.
That’s all well and good, and probably better — and obviously cheaper — than conventional editorial controls. But the control of the algorithm, the inner workings of the magic box that determines what’s hot and what’s not, is in the hands of the wizards that work for these new media gatekeepers. Yes, the myriad decisions of tens of millions of individuals still factor in heavily — like the ranking of blogs at tech.memeorandum being based on popularity, which is based on links and traffic — and the more explicit voting stuff at services like Rojo’s new Mojo, a personalized memetracking tool (see the TechCrunch and Read/Write Web for solid, in-depth reviews).
The answer to feed glut might be memetrackers, where we rely on the machinery and the harnessed collective grey matter of many, many others, to guide us to the right stuff to read, the right viewpoints to test, the right insights to be exposed to. But the corporatization of memetrackers is my biggest concern. Will there be a consistent weighting of more established, more conservative voices? Will the hippies, dreamers, and iconoclasts be weeded out? Will thoughtful and critical analysis be avalanched by hot meme-chasing newshounds who loudly proclaim love for everything hot? I wonder.
But there is no doubt that my primitive hunter/gatherer model of roaming around looking for good stuff will be augmented with something more overarching. Bruce Sterling once wrote about this:
[from Order Out Of Chaos]
Ultimately no human brain, no planet full of human brains, can possibly catalog the dark, expanding ocean of data we spew. In a future of information auto-organized by folksonomy, we may not even have words for the kinds of sorting that will be going on; like mathematical proofs with 30,000 steps, they may be beyond comprehension. But they’ll enable searches that are vast and eerily powerful. We won’t be surfing with search engines any more. We’ll be trawling with engines of meaning.
And the abiding question for me is “who is writing those algorithms?” If we can get to the point where we — the eventual users of these engines — have some say, or at least an insight, into the inner workings of the engines, I would more happily embrace them.