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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:
  • "Threat" response (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rjamestaylor (117847) <rjamestaylor@gmail.com> on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:28PM (#20956825) Journal

    Our single biggest threat is to ignore our past and try to be whatever is popular today
    AND

    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.
    These answers definitely satisfy me. I'll be around, too...even with the preposition-ending sentences, etc. :-)
  • by Skyshadow (508) * on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:33PM (#20956929) Homepage
    It would have been nice to have zillions of dollars, but there are other things that are more important.

    "Money can't buy happiness, but somehow it's more comfortable crying in a Porsche than a Hyundai."

    Interesting to read that the Slashdot editor felt disconnected from the Dotcom thing... When I was living in Wisconsin, honestly hanging around this site and reading the posts people were making is part of the reason I was so eager to move out to the Bay Area (wish I could have picked a better time; July 2000 turned out to be kind of rough). I suppose I just figured that being here at, well, wunderkind central, it would have been like being plugged directly into the horse's mouth (or potentially the other end).

    Guess it's just more proof that Your Mileage, lifewise, May Vary.
  • Thanks. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdot@nOspAM.exit0.us> on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:36PM (#20956967) Homepage
    Thanks for answering all of that. The one I'm really looking forward to is the hardware article, whenever you get to it.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:39PM (#20957025)
    Never try to be what you ain't. No matter if something else takes off and soars. Chances are it's just the usual FOTM (or year), the hype will go and then you have neither attracted any of their audience (why go to the copy when you can have the original?) nor will your old audience be there anymore, because they were with you not despite but because you're not that other FOTM site/company/game/application/younameit.

    Time and again it's been shown that things go from bad to worse when you try to imitate. Whether you take search engines that try to imitate Google or MMORPGs trying to imitate WoW, all they accomplished was to lose rather than gain audience.

    Looking forwards to another 10 years of /.
  • by gangien (151940) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:49PM (#20957207) Homepage
    I agree, I was glad when I read this line

    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.

    I hope /. never becomes them either.
  • kdawson (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:52PM (#20957257)
    As I'm sure most of us knew it would be, despite the fact that it was rated 5, the question as to why kdawson was kept on as a moderator despite the constant low quality of his work and the barrage of complaints against him was completely ignored.

    I myself was quite irritated to see that this was the case, and I hope that the attention that this question received in the original request for questions post has brought this issue to a greater light amongst /. staff. Hopefully, in the months to come, kdawson's work will improve, and if not, I will be very annoyed that this was not addressed by Rob.

    (Posted anonymously because I saw what happened to the anti-kdawson posts to which I'm referring, which seemed awfully suspicious to me.)
  • Thanks Rob (Score:5, Insightful)

    by localman (111171) on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:37PM (#20957975) Homepage
    Just want to say thanks for holding out and keeping Slashdot great. It's my one must check site, even after all this time. I open my email, and I open Slashdot. "S" autocompletes to "Slashdot" in my Safari address bar.

    I apologize if this is too warm and fuzzy, but Slashdot is definitely one of the greatest online communities. We still love to complain about the idiocy of Slashdot discussions, but I think this was just because we didn't know what 1000+ people discussions looked like. Now, thanks to so many other sites showing just how bad it can be, I feel I can safely say that Slashdot (when you read +3 and above) is a beacon of reason, penetrating insight, and great wit. I've learned a lot on Slashdot over the years, not as much as on Wikipedia, but probably more than any other single site. And though it is a narrow segment of the population, I still have my ideas intelligently challenged regularly by what I read here. And I think that is a great thing.

    Okay, enough :)
  • by JoeCommodore (567479) <larry@portcommodore.com> on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:19PM (#20958559) Homepage
    I am too far into reading but, Answer 2 is a very insightful answer, it sums up a lot of the problems with corporations now. And should be in a FAQ about what's wrong with many publicly traded companies.

    Though I think his response to the 10 year question is premature, Apple may be hot, but it's still a closed system and as a long time Mac person and a newer Linux person am finding more frustrations with OSX buggyness (on a technical level) than with Linux. I think in the long term ,if not addressed, their limited cross-platform compatibility will kill Apple.

    Back to reading...
  • Thank you. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by a9db0 (31053) on Friday October 12, 2007 @03:00PM (#20959263)

    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.
    You may hate it, but many of us appreciate it. Inasmuch as we take gadgets apart to see how they work, we like knowing about the inner workings of a site we read daily. I'm sure you feel all of this has taken time away from more important stuff that matters, but we enjoy knowing about it.

    Ten years is a huge span in internet time. Slashdot has outlasted companies, technologies, presidents, and search engines. I think it is as good a time as any to step back from the day-to-day fray and get a little perspective. Slashdot has made a difference, both in the web and in the world.

    Thank you.

  • by Mark_Uplanguage (444809) * on Friday October 12, 2007 @03:24PM (#20959613)
    I'm no actor-writer, but I certainly agree that I learn more on slashdot than anywhere else. It's what I turn to for daily tech news that IS important.

    Beyond that I actually learn stuff from the community comments as well, and I've always been happy with the comment moderation system - although I sometimes wish there was a filter for just the 'funny' comments.

    I could go on, but in spite of the imitators and haters I'd like to think there will always be /.

  • by StandardDeviant (122674) on Friday October 12, 2007 @04:10PM (#20960265) Homepage Journal

    You could wear a kilt, but that much wool (~9 yrds for a full traditional) is hot and scratchy. So the option exists for other socially acceptable forms of bottom-half-covering, but in most situations pants win by being the most function for the least cost/hassle. You could probably go further into this with a full marginal utility analysis of various cuts and types of cloth.

    I can't believe I just wrote a quarter-serious post about pants.

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