Reborn as Digg Rival

Confirming rumors first reported in March, AOL relaunched on Thursday as a user driven news site much like the popular Headed by Jason Calcanis, the new Netscape aims to build on social networking concepts first brought to bear by both Digg and

For the next two weeks, access to the beta site will be made available through a link from the current portal. Starting July 1, the beta site will replace it, an AOL spokesperson told BetaNews. While the site may look a lot like Digg, the company is quick to point out its differences.

"We wanted to make an experience that is familiar to existing users, but driven by a different engine," spokesperson Andrew Weinstein said. Users would be able to submit and vote on stories much like Digg, but that's where the similarity ends.

Stories are ranked through what AOL refers to as a "velocity formula." This creates a ranking based on the number of votes, how often the story is commented on, the time the story was written, and also the time the votes were cast. The more time elapsed between the story and when the vote was submitted results in a lower value, Weinstein explained.

"This will prevent stories from becoming self-sustaining" on votes alone, he added.

Netscape has assembled a team of 23 "anchors," who will man the site round the clock. These anchors, which both come from traditional publications and from Calcanis' Weblogs network, will be tasked with ensuring that stories are accurate and complete.

Weinstein said that other pure social networking sites have that problem. He pointed out that on several different occasions, stories on former Sun CEO Scott McNealy's firing moved up the rankings on Digg. Through Netscape's method, these stories would be caught early.

Adding a journalistic layer will also help the portal to respond quickly to breaking news. Anchors would be given the ability to move important stories up quickly even if they have a low number of votes.

These anchors would also be able to follow up on stories and add to them. "It's almost meta-journalism," Weinstein said. "It brings journalism full circle: the initial journalist writes the story, our zeitgeist rates it, then our journalists can add and expand to it."

In addition to the Digg-like features, the new also carries a social networking like aspect, where each member will have his or her own page. From this page, a user could see what stories they have submitted, comments they have left, and what they have voted on.

A separate friends page within the users page would also give a user the opportunity to see what their friends are voting on as well, Weinstein said.

While some may criticize AOL and Netscape for essentially copying Digg, Weinstein disagrees. He believes that the new site is an evolution of what Digg attempts to do.

"Many sites did social networking before Digg," Weinstein pointed out. took that to another level, and Kevin Rose added to the format in order to come up with Digg. "Netscape is the next evolution in social media," he argued.

Another worry for some may be the opportunity for potential bias in coverage. Weinstein says that AOL understands that will likely occur, and its anchors will be upfront in stating their opinion. He also said the selection of the term "anchor" versus "reporter" was considered when dealing with potential bias.

Whereas reporters are expected to be impartial, anchors often add their own individual perspectives to news reports. "I think the bias is an expected part of this," he said.

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