10 cool things AOL could do with Netscape.com

Netscape Navigator
We want to see Netscape back on our monitors

More than just a browser developer, Netscape was once synonymous with the web. Go to netscape.com now, though, and you're quietly redirected to AOL's front page.

There's not a single crumb of the old brand left, just a double portion of bland portal pie.

What a terrible waste. Netscape - more than any brand or browser - was the little company that could. It took on Microsoft head to toe and looked like it could win.

But while Netscape kick-started the web it's now almost forgotten; a holding company for a relegated revolution - the web's strongest brand, locked in a drawer with some odd socks and mothballs. It's a ludicrous situation, and it makes us sad.

As the world's biggest ISP, there are so many ways AOL could be capitalising on the Netscape name. We're so keen for Netscape to live again that we've come up with 10 ideas that the internet giant can have for free; ideas that build on the goodwill and global recognition that Netscape still enjoys.

1. Start a web hosting service for entry level users
Once upon a time, Geocities was the go-to site for those in need of a personal web presence. That niche is now occupied by MySpace and Facebook, tools for connecting friends together. The time is ripe for a new home page service that mixes social networking with flexible tools that lets users create their own layouts and pages. Netscape would be the perfect brand and AOL, with its natural demographic of novice users, the perfect host.

2. Offer a stripped down ISP for professional users
Netscape has already been an ISP - but this time around the product will benefit from AOL's robust international network experience. In an online market where there are increasingly few beginners, the AOL brand doesn't fit well with the frill-free, streamlined service that would appeal to the most lucrative demographic out there: business users. The Netscape name would be ideal.

3. Create a ground-breaking virtual world
Second Life gets lots of press, but it's starting to look a bit early 21st century - with games like World of Warcraft showcasing superior graphics and interaction. As a proof of concept, though, Second Life is ideal - boasting around 3,500,000 regular users. AOL already has a history as a pioneer in multiplayer games with the seminal Neverwinter Nights, the first MMORPG. A second take on Second Life is well within AOL's capabilities. Now all it has to do is build it.

4. Offer a statistics hub with free and premium access
The data passing through AOL - from search statistics to internet traffic reports - is worth its weight in bits and bytes. AOL could take on NationMaster as a global statistics vendor, chock full of the net usage data AOL must have its mitts on and pulling in other numbers from third-party sources. It fits the Netscape name like a glove - though the EFF might have an objection or two.

5. Create a literal interpretation of the word Netscape
Similar to web graphing tools like Google Browser and Digg's slew of visualisation tools - this would graphically represent internet traffic passing through AOL in real time. Pulsing, animated patterns would show requests on search engines, music downloads and social networking flocks. The colour coded activity would only be decipherable by mathematical savants. Not much money in this idea - but, lots of pretty colours and a very graphic illustration of AOL's market power.

6. Start an emulation and site testing hub for web designers
In another fairly literal translation of the Netscape name, this would be a service that offers real time validation (like validator.w3.org), device and platform emulation tools (like browsercheck.org) and solid design advice (like A List Apart). This triple threat combo would soon become one of the web's most highly visited sites.

7. Roll out wireless broadband provision
The next connectivity battleground will be wireless and whether the technology that prevails is WiMAX or HSDPA, AOL has the infrastructure to be a major player. But the Netscape brand could be stronger in this arena than a name that's mostly associated with a family friendly ISP.

8. Launch an online application suite
Many pundits predict a move to net-enabled applications and a strong suite with word processing, spreadsheet, database and imaging tools could easily clean up. AOL should buy what it needs to launch (office suite ThinkFree and the image editor Splashup come to mind) - and then get online before Microsoft stops dithering and finally commits to putting Office fully online.

9. Develop an XML-based server-to-desktop technology that competes with Silverlight and Adobe AIR
Make it open source. Make it so that it embeds directly into static XHTML using simple XML-defined attributes. Make it scale up to more robust scripting languages. Make it do vectors, bitmaps, audio, video, relational data and interaction. Make the authoring tool free. Make it so it works as much as possible using W3C standard XML and JavaScript alone. Make it run in Firefox and Opera without plug-ins. And, of course, call it Netscape.

10. Run consumer research to find out what people really want from a web browser - then build it
Alternatively, take a shortcut and go into partnership with Google, licensing its frill-free and delightfully lightweight browser Google Chrome. Either way, call the new offering Netscape Navigator X and launch it at netscape.com.

Come on, AOL, we want to see Netscape live again!

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