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Rob Malda Answers Your Questions 221

Posted by Roblimo
from the pants-are-still-optional-but-not-for-you dept.
Last week hundreds of you posted questions for Slashdot's CmdrTaco, AKA Rob Malda. Today we present his answers to 10 of the highest-moderated questions. CT: You can continue to sign up for 10 year anniversary parties but we're already working on shipping shirts so you won't be able to get a care package... but you can still try to run for the big grand prize by just taking videos of pictures or just doing something cool at your parties to prove that we should have been there.


1) Question: Trends (Score:5, Interesting) by vinn (4370)

You've probably followed more news stories and trends over the past decade than just about anyone else.

Based on that, what are your predictions for the next 10 years?

Some technology is obviously going to die a quick and painful death. Some of that technology will be good and some deservedly bad. What's going to catch on? What has staying power? Google has been a golden child the last few years, will that continue? Are there any big turnarounds coming? Who's got good stuff in the pipeline? Don't you dare tell me 2008 is the year of Linux (and I know you won't) - we've both been hearing that marketing crap for the past 10 years.

CmdrTaco:

I don't think I have a particularly unique perspective on these matters. We all read the same Slashdot. What we'll see is mostly obvious: Smaller, Faster, More Portable, More lawsuits, less individual rights. The year of Linux is long passed. Linux will have a strong position on the server for a long time, but as GNOME and KDE bickered with each other, Apple came along and gave the world a great desktop UNIX. It's sad, but true, and there's a huge lesson to learn there. It'll be interesting to see how long Google will be the golden boy- that just can't last forever, can it? I just hope that when the future gets here, we still have the right to copy our own data, and take apart and hack our own gadgets.

2) Have you any regrets? (Score:5, Interesting) by cOdEgUru (181536)

Have you ever regretted starting Slashdot, or investing so much of your time into this site? Did any actions by your peers, by the community or by your colleagues, as a result of a story posted on Slashdot or related to one, made you ever regret your decision to start Slashdot.

CmdrTaco:

Sure. Running Slashdot under the umbrella of a publicly traded company is a huge challenge. A company is a beast that must always eat more... and some people think that making a number for this quarter is so important that it means sacrificing ideals that might hurt you next quarter. Like if I put 15 ads on the page tomorrow, we'd make a lot of money for 3 days and then most of you would leave, and so we'd have great revenue for a week and then no revenue ever again.

So, much of my job is making decisions and fighting with other people at the company to make sure that there still is a Slashdot worth reading next year and the year after that. And advertisers would simply like to buy stories... now, contrary to what conspiracy theorists accuse us of, we don't sell stories. And it quite honestly hurts me when people accuse us of it. But it's scary to know that some folks in the company would be quite happy to do it, completely selling out the integrity of the site to get a bonus. I guess thats a big part of why I stay here: I think Slashdot matters and at least when I'm here I can try to keep it on the path.

3) In and out of Slashdot. (Score:5, Interesting) by pavon (30274)

These are probably pretty cliche questions, but I am interested in the answers.

What is a normal day at slashdot like? How much time do you spend improving slashcode vs picking stories vs the normal computer admin tasks vs other stuff. How are the workload/responsibilities split up among the different staff members? How has this changes over the years?

I also remember back in the old days, the work you did with Enlightenment, as well as the animated short you made (Duckpins?). I was wondering if you get the chance to do much programing outside of slashcode, or what other hobbies you spend your free time doing now (besides being married).

CmdrTaco:

I have a couple of different jobs. One is posting stories- on a day where that is my primary responsibility, I might get in at 7:30 a.m. and read submissions and post them until early afternoon. During this time I might reject a few hundred submissions, post a half dozen stories, and of course try to keep up on my email. Beyond that, I have a number of meetings (a monthly author meeting, a weekly coder meeting, and countless random other meetings for marketing/sales/etc.). I always have chat windows open with various members of the company discussing whatever projects are outstanding.

It's not that different from when we started, except that 10 years ago I would have a terminal window open with code, now I have a chat window open with coders, and 10 years ago I would post stories, and today I have a chat window opened to a group of people who can all post stories.

I read every story posted. I read discussions when the subject matter is particularly interesting. But after that, I make sure that everyone is working on the right stuff, and that things work the way I want them t o work.

These days my time for hobbies are limited, but when I have time I play video games or just goof around with software or hardware. Pretty much all of my free time is consumed by Zachary, the currently 12 lb. terror that exploded out of Kathleen last August. He's awesome.

4) Okay, I'll bite (Score:5, Interesting) by Skyshadow (508)

Something I've been sort of curious about for ages:

Can you talk a little about how you experienced some of the dotcom insanity, specifically as it unfolded here at Slashdot? For a while, it seemed like Slashdot was about to become wunderkind central -- the sale to VA, the infamous ESR post about uber-wealth, etc. I'd be interested to hear about how that experience translated from your side of the ball.

CmdrTaco:

I was seriously buffered from most of the dot com boom. I lived in Nowhere, Michigan so I only saw it when I went to SFO or NYC or Boston for a tradeshow or a meeting. It wasn't until it disappeared that I realized how big it was, and then only by absence: to go to an office building and see row after row of empty cubicles... it was sad.

Slashdot didn't change that much during that era. We added a few writers and a few coders. We bought a few new servers, but even today we run a very lean operation on the production side of the site. Basically 2-3 coders and 2-3 writers replaced me working 20 hour days.

As for the ESR post, I found it very embarassing. I'm of the Gen-X/Grunge era. I cling tightly to my flannel shirt and would never publicly make such a boastful post. Even today, I hate marketing Slashdot. I dislike doing press for Slashdot. I've always felt that if we do a good job, people will read, and there's no reason to hype the site. This is anathema to corporate life, which is why we do things like the 10-year anniversary thing. The only reason we're doing it is that I really felt that after 10 whole years it was worth a bit of reflection.

Personally, the bubble made it possible for me to own my own home at a time in my life when most people my age were living in 1-bedroom roach motels, or worse, with their parents. I'm thankful for that. But when the bubble burst, it took with it my dreams of having a private jet or something, and I was left with a job that pays really well doing something I like.

When the bubble burst I learned a lot and realized that I had made a number of mistakes a long the way. Lessons learned, I guess. It would have been nice to have zillions of dollars, but there are other things that are more important.

5) Silly Question (Score:5, Interesting) by LiquidCoooled (634315)

I assume that through the ether you have met Kevin Rose, but do you two get along or is it pistols at dawn?

CmdrTaco:

Yeah, I met him when I did an interview on some TV show I guess he was hosting. He seems like a sincere guy, and I have no problem with him.

People love to paint rivalries between Slashdot and whatever website they think we are battling at the moment, but I really resist the urge to compare Slashdot to sites like Digg. We do different things and serve different audiences. There's crossover to be sure, but to shoot a guy in low sunlight seems kinda silly.

6) What is this crazy tags thing? (Score:5, Interesting) by Reality Master 101 (179095)

Considering the FAQ hasn't been updated in almost a year, could you explain exactly what tags do these days? At one time, it seemed to be a vote-based system, now I have no idea how tags show up on articles. Frankly, since I didn't understand it and my tags didn't seem to affect anything, I gave up on using the feature.

Could we get a definitive answer to how tags work?

CmdrTaco:

I don't know exactly how 'Definitive' this is... but 'tags' is just an experimental system for us. We're using it for ideas on how we could improve moderation and firehose ratings. We're using it to see what ways people will try to screw with the system. Tags are very open-ended and are therefore used for many things. People use them for opinions, abuse, classification, and sometimes just as an attempt at wit. The system can be all of those things, but when we see abuse we definitely try to stop that.

Basically the way tags work is that you add words that you think are cool. If many people tag similarly, those tags appear on the articles. You can use tags to be informative (a tag like 'slashdot' on this story would make sense since I'm talking about Slashdot) or to provide helpful feedback to editors ('dupe' or 'typo' for example). It's very open ended, and as long as your tags are beneficial to others, we like seeing them.

I don't want to narrowly define tags, either: Sometimes a silly witty tag rises to the top. It may reflect an opinion or a joke, but thats ok as long as it's not mean. At the end of the day, we're learning a lot from how people use tags- knowledge that we're using to make firehose better, and ultimately to make moderation better.

Under the hood, we've actually ported moderation to tags... so now we can more easily expand moderation to incorporate aspects of tagging. The issue here is that we have 2 major differences between moderation and tags: moderation has a very limited domain of tags, and you are very limited in how much/how often you can moderate. So we can't simply flip a switch and use tagging instead of moderation, but many of the tools and rules overlap nicely. Personally I think it's probably the most interesting aspect of what we're playing with on the site. We're not doing tags like anyone else, and I think that's what is fun about it.

7) Most-visited sites.. (Score:5, Interesting) by B5_geek (638928)

What "Top-5" websites are in your daily/hourly must-read rotation? (Not counting RSS)

CmdrTaco:

I only really read the internet via the firehose and via RSS, so I guess I can't really answer this question. I think that if you read Slashdot's firehose, you don't really need to read any other tech news publications since it will contain the best of all those other websites. So the sites that I read beyond the direct Slashdot subject matter tend to be comedy websites or comics... these days Penny Arcade and XKCD are my favorite comics although my feed has a dozen more. Also things like Cute Overload or College Humor. If it's tech news, the firehose has it covered... but if it's funny, well I need to work to get that.

8) Thoughts of giving up? (Score:5, Interesting) by martyb (196687)

When were you most tempted to give up?

Dealing with a bunch of creative, resourceful, tenacious, stubborn, and sometimes outright hostile nerds, I'm sure there were MANY times when you were tempted to just give up on the whole thing. e.g. page-widening trolls; Church of Scientology; Microsoft source code, or even the release of slash code to the community and the barrage of insults.

I'm really glad you held on and persevered, but I'd like to know why.

CmdrTaco:

When the shitty days come, I really wonder why I do it. Hate mail in my inbox. Flame in the forums. DDoS attacks. Sales/Marketing pressuring us to do something stupid. Or the more standard stuff that goes along with being part of a company- paperwork and bureaucracy etc.

I can usually handle the user problems... I've come to understand that if you do anything successful you will create some percentage of fans... and as a subset of fans, you get anti-fans. On one level it's flattering: This is a person so passionate about your work that he will spend hours trashing you in any forum possible. It's crazy... it can really hurt if you let it, and sometimes it does.

I've pondered leaving many times over the years but I always come back to wanting to make this thing work. I really like Slashdot and think it's a better site with me here than away. I can't imagine what others would do to it if I left!

The thing is that every now and then we do something important. Like really important. We break a story, or house a discussion that changes a mind. I think that we serve an important role on-line. We're a pub where people gather to talk about the days events, and I think this has tremendous value. I think I still am here because there's a community here that I like. And besides, it beats flipping burgers.

9) Infrastructure (Score:5, Interesting) by blhack (921171)

Can you give us any insight into the hardware/platform that slashdot runs on? How many servers does it use? What did you code it in? (a half drunk, coked-up deaf guy screaming HTML into a tin can on a string?) How much bandwidth does it use?

I know this is more than one question, but my MAIN question is just: "What does it take to run slashdot, hardware/software/bandwidth wise?"

CmdrTaco:

We'll actually have a lengthy discussion of exactly this before the 10-year anniversary stuff is done. But in short, we're talking about a dozen dual CPU web-heads, 4 quad CPU mega database boxes. We share bandwidth with SourceForge, so we don't use much bandwidth... Slashdot doesn't host video or many pictures so we're fairly cheap. The code is all at www.slashcode.com so you can download it and play with it for yourself. It's all Perl/Apache.

10) What are the biggest threats to /. success? (Score:5, Interesting) by rjamestaylor (117847)

Slashdot is successful by any measure. You've certainly pioneered many things we now take for granted. Many "slashdot killers" have been attempted and failed or found a different niche. What are the biggest threats to /. success today and going forward?

CmdrTaco:

I think the single biggest threat to Slashdot is for us to try to be something we're not. We are NOT CNet. We are not Digg. We are not Wired. We are not Reddit.

Those sites have many things that define them... from the source of content to the method of content selection, to the sorts of business partnerships and types and quantity of advertising on each of those sites, each has a sort of place, and Slashdot isn't exactly any of those things.

The future success of Slashdot depends on us understanding what Slashdot was for the last 10 years and how to continue to be that in the future. The names change, but the fundamental underlying joy of technology shouldn't.

We need to know who you guys are, and what you want, and try to give you what you want in a website, but without selling out what Slashdot has been. We have a decade of legacy now... our single biggest threat is to ignore our past and try to be whatever is popular today... but that's not to say we can't change.

We need to incorporate many of these popular ajax/web2.0 technologies and ideas- our readers deserve the improved browsing experience. But it's a careful balance between taking what is good about what is available today, and blending it with what has worked about Slashdot throughout our history.

It's a mistake for us to want to be CNN or the Wall Street Journal or to spend our days chasing after Digg, or Reddit, or Kuro5hin, or whatever site follows them. We strike our own path. We'll never be the #1 traffic destination on the net, but we're still regularly a great website, and one that I'm proud to continue to be part of.

-- Pants are Optional
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Rob Malda Answers Your Questions

Comments Filter:
  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:36PM (#20956973) Homepage
    http://interviews.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=99/12/10/0821224 [slashdot.org]

    At least from my perspective, this one post almost completely destroyed his influence in the community. There's an object lesson in there someplace.
  • Prepositions (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:40PM (#20957053)
    Don't you like preposition-ending sentences [metrolingua.com]?
  • by shawnmchorse (442605) on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:49PM (#20957205) Homepage
    Here ya go, ESR's "musings on sudden wealth" after VA Linux's IPO at the end of 1999:

    http://interviews.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=99/12/10/0821224 [slashdot.org]

    I remember reading that when it was first posted, and yes it's much more amusing now. From the Wikipedia entry on VA Linux:

    VA Software is notable because of its IPO on December 9, 1999. The shares for the IPO were offered at $30, but the traders held back the opening trade until the offers hit $299. LNUX later popped up to $320, and closed their first day of trading at $239.25, a 698% return. However, this high-flying success was short-lived, and within a year the stock was selling at well below the initial offer price, in a classic example of the dot-com stock market bubble. As of 2005, this is still the most "successful" IPO of all time. The stock price reached an intra-day nadir of 54 cents on July 24, 2002. It then soared more than 1000% to an intra-day high of $6.38 on September 11, 2003. As of November 26, 2006, the stock closed at $4.64.
  • by StandardDeviant (122674) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:23PM (#20957775) Homepage Journal

    http://finance.yahoo.com/q/hp?s=LNUX&a=11&b=9&c=1999&d=05&e=9&f=2000&g=d
    http://finance.google.com/finance?q=NASDAQ:LNUX

    Six months from the ipo would've been around june of 2000, certainly after the peak of the NASDAQ (you can see the decline in the prices above). Still, $36 per share is better than the $3 per share it is now. For simplicity assuming the shares were given to him for $0 and he paid no taxes on them once sold and had transaction costs of $0 and that he sold them all as soon as he could (wise given a $240->$36 drop in six months), that would mean clearing $5,400,000 off of his 150k share allotment. Still nothing to sneeze at, but not the absurd valuation he mentions in his post. After removing all the simplifying assumptions, lord only knows. Less than $5M, probably more than $0. ;)

  • by phantomlord (38815) <slashdot.krwtech@com> on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:52PM (#20958173) Journal
    I seem to remember, back around 2000ish, a lot of non-US Slashdotters bitching that Slashdot was too US-centric and didn't cover enough international stories... After the sellout to Andover/VA, people complained that it was too corporate and that the editors and story selection sucked. The "solution" was Kuro5hin where you could vote on the stories, pick what went to the front page, etc. Quite a few Slashdotters seemed to have dual-citizenship, if you will. It had a lot of hype for a while and even Slashdot covered stories about K5. I remember K5 getting DDOSed and VA donating a new server for them.

    For a while they were pretty successful, but eventually, the flames burned out. I stopped visiting sometime back in 2001 or so when the site became overly political and have checked in on it a few times a year since. It seems pretty dead these days. Slashdot started becoming pretty partisan about the same time (with nearly every story having to have at least one comment about how Bush stole the election), but it was more in check since users weren't decided what stories everyone got to see. The advent of the politics section and the hiring of a particular editor has Slashdot pushing it in the same direction. I left Slashdot for a while last year but decided I wasn't going to let one editor ruin a site, one I've visted for nearly a decade, for me.
  • by east coast (590680) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:57PM (#20958253)
    First let me say that I realize that Taco and crew have put something solid together here but...

    CmdrTaco: you don't really need to read any other tech news publications since it will contain the best of all those other websites.

    Uh, bullshit? While I obviously have hung out here and posted a ton of stuff over the years, Slashdot simply is not a "best of the tech web" site.

    Slashdot is fine for getting a the big tech news on the web in short order but most of us have long outgrown that. I consider Slashdot to be more the Discovery Channel of the web: If you have a mild interest in something it's great but once you get past the surface there's no meat for someone who wants to advance their knowledge on a certain subject. For example: I mostly read a lot of the astronomy stuff because it's a minor interest of mine, almost a hobby. Most of the stories I find here are good reading and sometimes I come into some new information but when I want to read a bit more into it I simply can't do that here. I have to go to the more specialised websites to do that. I don't know if others feel the same.

    And that sad part of all of it is that reading the comments is even worse. I see tons of posts modded +5 Informative or Insightful and a reply 15 minutes later points out why the post is plainly wrong yet the correct post stays at a 0-2 mod. The more of these that I see and double check the facts myself the more I see erroneous information getting passed off around here with the validation of the moderation system. It gets even worse in the stories that often boil down to flame wars. Having a +5 Informative on a post that reads "[Bill Gates/RIAA/Linux/NASA/insert...] is teh fucktard!!!!oneoneone!!!" shows that something has gone wrong. By all means, have your opinion of it but it's just so easy to get modded up by taking a side instead of passing on fresh information or at least an explanation of your opinion.
  • by spencerogden (49254) <spencer@spencerogden.com> on Friday October 12, 2007 @03:22PM (#20958607) Homepage
    Actually, logarithmic plots are often used in finance. The scale accurately portrays the effects of compounding. Only problem they are usually used on the way up...
  • Missed the context? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ohmaar (997049) on Friday October 12, 2007 @03:53PM (#20959133)
    I see you complaining about comments, so I'll guess you're mostly reading the main SlashDot articles and wasting a lot of your time reading the comments. CmdrTaco was talking about the *firehose* containing the best of all the other websites. Only a small percentage of the stuff that comes through the firehose makes it to SlashDot proper, and unfortunately, since the community consists of folks for all backgrounds, you pretty much have to select the articles that appeal to everyone. If you want the hardcore, esoteric stuff, try the firehose.

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