Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Netscape: the Calacanis effect

Netscape Traffic-1Jason Calacanis said, last week, that he was leaving AOL because Jonathan Miller, AOL's ousted CEO, was one of the only business mentors he'd ever had. Loyal, touching, but maybe also rather opportunistic. Valleywag has obtained the internal traffic stats for Netscape.com, the unit which AOL gave Calacanis to run. The numbers are brutal: in the middle of June, before Calacanis overhauled Netscape's front page, the property commanded over 130m pageviews per week. Within two months, traffic had declined nearly 70%. The details, after the jump. (Hey, Digg folk. Some pics of the man himself, and adoring ladies, on Valleywag's Kevin Rose page.)

Jason Calacanis had great success with weblog titles such as Engadget, Joystiq and Autoblog, which he and his partners sold to AOL for about $25m. Moved over by his new employers to revitalize Netscape.com, a languishing internet portal, he picked a typically radical solution.

He'd been obsessed by Digg.com, a news site in which the community submits stories and votes the best to the top of the page. One of Jason's great strengths is his shamelessness: a willingness to spot good ideas, copy and improve them, fast. He'd offered to buy Digg for $4m, and been turned down; his solution for Netscape was to steal Digg's model, and some of their star contributors. Classic Calacanis.

Except Netscape visitors, most of whom only stuck with the neglected portal out of habit, were the worst subjects possible for Jason's radical experiment. Traffic the week of June 18th, before the Netscape team remade the front page, was 137m pageviews. The following week, as Netscape decommissioned areas such as news and weather, it declined to 115m. The new front page, a clone of Digg.com, went live on June 29. The first full week after the change, traffic had plummeted further, to 72m pageviews. The Comscore numbers, which help advertisers allocated their budgets to different internet properties, mirror this decline.

Calacanis has resigned from AOL ostensibly out of loyalty to Miller, and, having founded Silicon Alley Reporter and Weblogs, Inc., he probably also has several startup ideas. Part of the truth, for sure. Valleywag's more cynical theory: he messed up Netscape.com, and used Miller's departure as cover.

Update: Jason puts the blame, or at least some of it, on a migration of Netscape email users to AIM.



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