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AOL Giving Makeover to Netscape.com Web Portal

AOL is revamping its Netscape.com Web portal to give visitors a greater role in determining what news articles get readily shown to others.

Visitors will be able to submit links to articles they find elsewhere and vote on the ones they like most. The items receiving the most votes will appear on the home page, as well as in separate sections focusing on technology, food and other topics.

The effort comes as the Time Warner Inc. (TWX) Internet unit attempts to boost traffic to its ad-supported Web sites as its access-subscription business declines.

The new Netscape portal is scheduled to launch July 1, with a public "beta" test available beginning Thursday.

Because AOL also runs AOL.com, it can experiment with its less-trafficked Netscape.com site.

According to comScore Media Metrix, Netscape had 12.3 million U.S. visitors in April, compared with 128 million for Yahoo Inc. (YHOO)'s portal, 102 million for Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) MSN and 87.0 for AOL.com. News Corp.'s (NWS) MySpace.com and Lycos Inc.'s portal also had more traffic than Netscape.

Jason Calacanis, general manager for Netscape, said the voter choices may also appear on other AOL properties.

For instance, while the top articles on autos would be central to Netscape's auto channel, the same list could appear as part of AOL.com's auto section and the AOL-owned Autoblog Web journal.

The articles themselves won't necessarily be stored on AOL computers. Rather, visitors who submit links are directed to write a summary that would appear on the Netscape page. Readers can get the full article by clicking on a link to the original site.

The outside articles appear as frames within the Netscape site, a technique over which major news organizations had sued a small news referral site in the mid-90s. The site, called TotalNews, stopped that practice as part of a settlement.

Calacanis said Netscape shouldn't run into similar problems because its site won't carry ads on the pages using frames.

The redesign is Netscape's first major one since early 2005, when the portal introduced features that heavily used Flash animation technology in response to growing adoption of high-speed Internet lines (many of those features since have been quietly dropped).

Netscape.com will still have links to weather, e-mail and other features commonly associated with portals, but they will not be as prominent.

The portal also will have some items hand-picked, vetted and in many cases amplified with original reporting by AOL staff, but they will be drawn from the user-voted pool.

That will set Netscape.com apart from digg.com and other sites that engage in what Calacanis called "social news" — tapping the collective wisdom of a community to uncover items that might otherwise be hard to find. Placement of stories on the other sites are entirely up to users.

Netscape, which AOL acquired in 1999 primarily for its once-dominant Web browser, also will add a social networking feature. Users will be able to designate fellow users as friends and see what they've submitted and voted for.

Yahoo also is introducing user-voted items as part of a redesign, but the new Yahoo Pulse feature remains a small section of the overall home page.