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The History of Slashdot Part 4 - Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow 277

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the at-the-end-of-the-tour dept.
Today, on the last day of our 10 year anniversary navel gazing spectacular, I present the final (thank god!) chapter in my 4 part history of Slashdot. I've written about the creation, the explosion, and the corporatization. Today I talk about where we are today, and what I see as our future, and how I feel about it. Clicky click the magic link below to read the last "thrilling" chapter, and celebrate with me the fact that I won't have to spend this much time writing about Slashdot for another decade.

As the dust settled following the dot-com bust, we would see only minor changes to Slashdot. Hemos moved to Boston both to be closer to Andover HQ, and to get his wife in commute range for her grad school work. Nate went to California when his wife got a teaching job. Both moved to Ann Arbor a few years later, as did CowboyNeal, Samzenpus & I. The band was back together, and has been for the last several years.

These days we have a little office in A2 where we do much the same things as we have always done. Jeff spends way to much time in conference calls with corporate offices. He's got a fancy VP title which means he makes the big bucks in exchange for radiating his head on a cel phone. But he's always been a people person so I think that suits him just fine. Nate is an engineer for SourceForge and working on his own advanced degrees. CowboyNeal is on leave right now, but we're looking forward to his return. Samzenpus still sits at the receptionist desk scaring away the door to door salesmen that still seem to show up randomly with no clue what we do. We conduct most of our affairs via a jabber channel where people on both coasts work together.

At the end of all of it, I'm happy that I still get to work with my oldest friends, as well as a number of really honestly great people we've had to good fortune to meet up with in the last decade. And beyond that, I've had the good fortune to work with a number of other smart and cool people that have gone on to bigger and better things. On some level, the memories and people are the most important part of life, and I'm very happy with how that has gone.

As for Slashdot itself, there's a theme in the discussions about Slashdot jumping the shark. That theme has resurfaced regularly for our entire lifespan. From the creation of user accounts in 1998 on, every action we take on Slashdot provokes a 'This is the end of Slashdot' from someone. But what this tells me is that we actually haven't jumped the shark at all- if we had, they'd stop saying the same thing every time we do anything. You learn a lot in my position about large communities: Most of you never say a word... only the most passionate of you ever post. And an angry user is 10 fold more likely to post than a happy one. And when nobody can agree on anything... well there's meaning in that too.

At the end of the day, we've done some reasonably great things over the years. Take for example Sep 11. On that day the mainstream news websites buckled under the loads, and although we had to turn off logging, we managed to stay up, sharing news in a time where it was often difficult to get. That was the day where the team of engineers that make this site happen pulled together and did the impossible, forcing our limited little hardware cluster to handle traffic that was probably triple or quadruple a normal day.

Or take Columbine. When this tragedy hit, our readers took it a differently. Instead of blaming video games, we looked hard at the culture of abuse that drives high school. We talked about how the jocks beat us up. We knew that the terrible events of that day are almost inevitable when you stick kids into a system where certain groups of kids are given free reign to beat up others based on extra curricular activities. During that series of stories many people had a place to talk. It was cathartic. Our role was small, but it mattered.

Darker moments like those are rare, but there are countless other moments good and bad. Many you see on the page, and others you don't. From little successes like trading banner ads for office chairs or the time Gamara chucked Hemos's cel phone into an empty ice bucket... except it wasn't empty. Or the time the crazy guy showed up at our office and offered to give Samzenpus his car in exchange for 5 minutes of time with CmdrTaco, where he would "Reverse Engineer My Life". I proposed to my wife here... and she accepted and now years later we have a baby. I couldn't begin to enumerate the countless moments that have made the last decade here awesome.

I have other thoughts that are perhaps more bleak. There's a possible dark future for Slashdot if corporate interests take over. There's constant pressure from within the company to create new "products". Sometimes these mean new/more/bigger ads which usually result in people installing junkbusters. Far worse is the occasional attempt to create some sort of content partnership that blurs the lines between legitimate Slashdot content, and the paying advertiser's message. I hate these meetings because I have to constantly be the guy that says 'No'. My worst fear for Slashdot is that someday someone with deep enough pockets comes along with a check so big that someone in the company with a shortsighted view of the future is willing to cash over top of my objections.

Likewise, there is pressure for us to grow as a site, but this has 2 major problems. The first is that our audience was here in the 90s: we were the early adopters that made the internet great in the first place. Our growth will never match the population of the net because we are a small group that isn't growing: we were here first. Second is my personal feeling that marketing is just icky: read if you want. Or don't. If you don't find us on your own, you probably weren't meant to be here. That's my Gen-X showing I think, but it's still how I feel. And it really doesn't help when people on-line regard Alexa as legitimate and definitive. We could gain traffic by posting boobs or covering other subjects, but that would distract us from our real focus. And it would drive you guys away.

Similarly, new websites and technologies arise regularly. From Kuro5hin to Digg to Reddit, there have been dozens of websites that do similar things to Slashdot with varying degrees of success. Some have surpassed us, while most have faded into obscurity. From AJAX interfaces to alternate methodologies of content selection, they all have ideas, some good, so bad... some right for Slashdot, and some wrong. Distinguishing one from the other is tricky: you guys all deserve a modern web application, but at the end of the day, our story selection and discussions are what make this site unique. Drastic changes would alienate our long-term user base, so we need to tread cautiously.

A 10 year anniversary is a good time to think about what a 20 year anniversary would be like. And I think that the only way that Slashdot in 2017 is as good as Slashdot in 2007 is if we continue to maintain editorial independence, moderate advertising quantity with a clear distinction between advertising and content, and of course, that we continue to select the right stories to appeal to our existing audience... not to spend our time courting other audiences that would only dilute the discussions that bring so many of you here day after day.

For me personally I've spent a lot of time this month reflecting on Slashdot and my role here. Every day, 7 days a week, from my first cup of coffee until the moment I close the lid on my laptop, Slashdot is a part of my day. It's most of my browser tabs, most of my chat windows, and most of my inbox. And that's fine because I love this place: the readers, the content, and the people I work with. I'm honored that I continue to be the caretaker of this place.

Of course I've been here my entire adult life and I doubt that will always remain true. Certainly to leave would leave a hole in my life. But it's a constant struggle to maintain the site up to my standards. It's a struggle that I often win, but occasionally lose too. On some level, what keeps me here is knowing exactly what would happen within a few months of my departure. I don't like that one bit.

But let me end on a high note: I am very aware of Slashdot's unique place in the history of the internet. There's no way I could thank everyone that made that possible, but you all know who you are. I dream that in 2017 we can look back at 20 years and be just as proud of our second decade as our first. Keep reading. Keep submitting stories. Keep posting, moderating and meta moderating. If it isn't to much trouble, click on a banner ad every now and then. And hopefully I'll see you then.

--
Rob Malda
Pants are Optional

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The History of Slashdot Part 4 - Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

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  • by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:01PM (#21186467) Homepage

    I hate these meetings because I have to constantly be the guy that says 'No'. My worst fear for Slashdot is that someday someone with deep enough pockets comes along with a check so big that someone in the company with a shortsighted view of the future is willing to cash over top of my objections.

    I share your fear that one day that will happen, Rob. I don't want to see that happen: not now, not ever. To make this absolutely clear, the day that happens is the day I tip my cap and leave this site for good.

    Personally, I wish you'd never sold the site and continued to run it with the original team but there is no use crying over spilt milk. We are where we are.

    At some point, Rob is going to have to take a stand against these goons and defend Slashdot from corporate greed. He says he already is but I fear like the Ring of Power, the pull becomes stronger over time and it will develop in to a darker more insidious threat. To defend against this threat successfully he will need convincing evidence that Slashdot will be thoroughly destroyed if the enemy prevails.

    I hope people will stand with me today and that this thread will form part of that defence.

    If you agree with what I've said can you please reply to this thread with "I agree." Let's send these people a message that ultimately this site exists for us. We are their customers, not the advertisers.

    Simon

  • So wise... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KingSkippus (799657) * on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:05PM (#21186509) Homepage Journal

    You're so wise it makes me sick. Why can't more people be like Rob?

    Seriously, if you want to make a killing off of Slashdot without making changes that would kill Slashdot, you should expand your articles into a full-length book. Your site is officially an Internet institution. You are a bonafide part of geek culture now, which makes your perspective unique and interesting. You also have proven experience in building a successful community from nothing to millions, which would come in very handy in lots of industries and fields, both small and large.

    Plus, when the book is reviewed and the link is posted in the article, you could earn royalties AND sales commission, how sweet is that?

    Who knows, maybe you could even patent some of your methods of community-building, and then post an article on how evil you've become. ;-)

  • Congratulations! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nbvb (32836) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:07PM (#21186531) Journal
    Congratulations on 10 years of hard work. You have a lot to be proud of.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    I still swear some days that the trolls are going to drive me out, but here I am .... still here.

    And as an aside - Slashdot (and its ads... believe it or not.) led me to one of the best decisions I ever made in my career.

    Moons ago, you had an ad running for some company called "Ironport". They had a neat device that was just a mail delivery engine. As a company that has over 60 million customers, that's important to us. When customers' bills are ready, we're sending, well, 60 million emails. So such a "spam cannon:" is important.

    Anyway, that simple banner ad on Slashdot put me in touch with the folks at Ironport, and here we are, 5+ years later, with a completely modern email infrastructure that Just Works (tm). The Ironport folks made some changes to their appliances to meet our particular needs, and it's been a great partnership for us.

    Thanks guys. And if it weren't for that "icky" advertising, it would've never happened.
  • Sept 11th (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lthown (737539) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:09PM (#21186551)
    Actually, Slashdot was where I first heard about it. It's was just after the first plane hit - I seem to recall at the time it was thought it was a small plane. The second followed shortly with additional information.
  • by east coast (590680) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:23PM (#21186709)
    With only hiveminded thinkers left, like any monopoly, this site has stagnated.

    You God damned shill!

    Seriously, I agree with you. It's getting old that you can't post an honest opinion that isn't pro-OSS, pro-Google or pro-Apple without getting the beat down with the overrated mod.

    I'm sure my protest falls on deaf ears but it really has changed my outlook on how and what I contribute to Slashdot. I've noticed a couple of stories recently that I thought would make good Slashdot material and I simply will not submit them since I think the site has lost so much value. Not to mention that I also lost my mod points for not doing the Slashdot goosestep.

    I don't blame the trolls anymore. Sometime I do a bit of the trolling myself since honest and well thought out posts end with the same moderation in a world where not being dogmatic makes you "just another shill".
  • by sphealey (2855) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:01PM (#21187199)
    > proposed to my wife here... and she accepted
    > and now years later we have a baby.

    Wait until your baby creates his/her own Slashdot account - mine did this year. That made me feel both proud and old...

    sPh

    Of course you may have reserved userid 10 for that purpose a long time ago...
  • by anticypher (48312) <anticypher AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:05PM (#21187233) Homepage
    Only halfway kidding on that. At a recent conference on IPv4 address exhaustion, /. got called out by name when the main speaker said that IPv6 wouldn't take off until Slashdot supported it.

    I had started to write a question for the "Ask Rob" story, but ended up wandering off before hitting submit. In short, it was a question on future technologies, and whether there was any youthful geekiness left in the /. crowd.

    But then, there was Rob's excellent response to similar question.

    "I think the single biggest threat to Slashdot is for us to try to be something we're not."

    Which is why slashdot still has legions of followers after 10 years. The moderation systems, the layout, the filtering systems are quite good for what slashdot is. The addition of RSS feeds, CSS, and the few other improvements over a decade shows that slashdot grows as necessary, too much too fast would only hurt.

    That being said, there is a part of me that wonders if adding some AJAX navigation or publishing an API so people doing mashups can make a /.++, would hurt much. Certainly, IPv6 would add some tech cred without any damage. A working API like google maps or facebook have might be interesting just to see what new ideas are floating around.

    Rob, do you even have time to play with new technologies like AJAX, or look at what other places are doing with their APIs and mashups? Do you get out to conferences or trade shows (I know, with a new baby, probably not much)?

    I'm not really asking for slashdot2.0, the newest paradigm for a social mashup avatar-driven search engine portal, because I probably would never use (or be able to use) it.

    the AC
  • by Alu3205 (615870) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:07PM (#21187269)
    I agree. Slashdot is unique because of the community. That community can be moved or rebuilt to another site very easily and quickly.
  • by CaptainZapp (182233) * on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:09PM (#21187297) Homepage
    Not sure that this was mentioned, but in my opinion the most painful moment in Slashdots history (at least as far as I was reading) was when the Scientology(R) church managed to get a post actually deleted.

    You could really feel the pain oozing through the /. crew being forced to do something, which goes so much against the grain and the spirit of this board. Nevertheless I think it was the right decision since this would have been a fight with no way to win.

    However, and to stay in Scientology(R) slang, the whole sordid affair was a big win for Slashdot. As usual: the good Scieno(R) burgers created so much rotten publicity and once again so many folks, who didn't give a shit in the first place, learned about the sinister methods of this "applied religious philosophy".

    And all for the price of pulling a piece of bad science fiction. Science fiction for which some less enlightened members of our species pay 300'000 or so bucks to read at that. But then again you can find it on a lot of other places on the net for completely free.

  • Re:So wise... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbrod (19122) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:13PM (#21187335) Homepage Journal
    I remember the issues with the book. However I do wish you would publish a monthly magazine highlighting the hot topics of the month and reference some of the better points brought up in the discussions on the site.

    Charge like 20-50 bucks a year and throw a symbol of some sort next to the names of those users subscribing. This would help with revenue, give us a service we would like, and keep the Corporate overlords off your backs for a while due to the increased revenue.
  • The "Intel" section (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cerberusss (660701) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:15PM (#21187373) Homepage Journal

    Far worse is the occasional attempt to create some sort of content partnership that blurs the lines between legitimate Slashdot content, and the paying advertiser's message.
    Rob and colleagues, if you're reading this: the above quote reminds me of the Intel section that's now gone. Actually I think it's a shame. I really liked the section. I checked it every so often and liked the idea that I could talk straight with the engineers and other people of the business.

    If it was up to me, the section was re-established. Perhaps periodically with another sponsor or so.
  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:28PM (#21187515)
    I agree. I think that Rob realizes what some C-level executive might not: this is a community of technically skilled people. Most of the people here are early adopters and have come to slashdot because it's different. If Slashdot becomes a clone of something else, then the people on this site will migrate elsewhere and they'll have to settle with the scraps from Digg's table.

    That said, Rob's done a great job, and I'm sure he'll continue to do so. And when the corporate overlords overpower him, I'm sure he'll rise again, more powerful than they could possibly imagine ;) Or, at the very least, with another high-traffic site that's profitable, but not as much as it could be if it sold out.
  • by nbvb (32836) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:47PM (#21187757) Journal
    Ooh, sorry, I forgot the obligatory "I'm just a happy customer" comment. Really. I have no relationship with Ironport whatsoever besides being a happy customer.

    I guess that any positive comments instantly become astroturfing? Believe me, or don't. It doesn't matter to me. I just wanted to share a story about how something most people see as negative can be a positive.

  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:47PM (#21187767)

    Seriously, I agree with you. It's getting old that you can't post an honest opinion that isn't pro-OSS, pro-Google or pro-Apple without getting the beat down with the overrated mod.

    I'd like to offer an opposing view, then. I'm hardly in the Slashdot groupthink box: I consider (reasonable implementations of) copyright to be a viable, ethical system; I don't run Linux on my home PC (for all the same reasons other people don't); I think Microsoft does produce some good software (though far from all of it and I have no problem with saying that either)... You get the idea.

    I went through a phase a while back where it seemed like many of my non-groupthink-supporting posts were modded both (+1, Insightful) and (-1, Overrated), with the latter sometimes stacking up to hide a post because of the "two strikes and you lose your +1 bonus" rule even if it was also modded up multiple times.

    For the past few months, I've seen this much more rarely. I assume you still can't M2 a (-1, Overrated) mod; I've certainly never been offered one. So I can only conclude that modding down posts you disagree with is giving way to more reasoned discussion. At the same time, I have noticed a welcome increase in non-trivial, constructive responses to my posts, both agreeing and disagreeing with me, and those often lead to the interesting discussions I come here for. I, for one, say good riddance to our (-1, Overrated) modding, non-reply-posting underlords. :-)

    The only thing I have given up with for now is submitting stories. I'm sure there were good reasons all my recent submissions were rejected, and several of the topics made it via an alternative submission anyway, but it's just depressing to go to the effort of writing something up carefully and with checked links, only to see a day full of substandard press release jobs making it instead. This mainly predates the Firehose system, though, so perhaps it's better now. One of these days I might just find out.

  • Re:Congratulations! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pcol (577822) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @05:18PM (#21188997) Homepage Journal
    Congratulations on 10 years of slashdot.

    I think you've found the formula for the best discussion of technical and scientific issues on the web - editor selected stories and reader moderated comments.

    Whenever I think of a story to post to slashdot, I try to anticipate how people are going to respond, but when a story is accepted [hughpickens.com], I am always amazed by the diversity of opinion and the startling insights I see generated. Slashdot is online brainstorming at its best with the benefit of tens of thousands of smart people looking at an idea and providing their unique points of view .

    I think Vernor Vinge said it best in his dedication to Rainbows End [wikipedia.org]. "To the Internet-based cognitive tools that are changing our lives -- Wikipedia, Google, eBay, and the others of their kind, now and in the future"

    To that distinguished group, I would definitely add slashdot.

    Best Regards and hopes for 10 more years of slashdot success.
  • by LuckyStarr (12445) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @05:49PM (#21189385)

    If it was up to me, the section was re-established. Perhaps periodically with another sponsor or so.
    Did you mean something like:

    The evil-corporate-overlord-of-the-week is: [insert company name here]. Please post your questions.

    Actually, that could be interesting.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @06:40PM (#21189921)
    The thing with Slashdot and AJAX navigation is this. I have access to various computers. When at Home (WinXP, Firefox) I see various AJAX functionality in Slashdot (side-widget, comments open in place). If i try IE, i see no AJAX functionality. At work (Ubuntu + Firefox) i also see no AJAX functionality.

    I cleaned my cookies in all the browsers but nothing changes. Only with WinXP + Firefox at home i see all this AJAX things.

    Do anybody know what is going on? Have Slashdot enabled AJAX but only with WinXP + Firefox?
  • Re:Congratulations! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TechwoIf (1004763) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @02:47AM (#21193573) Homepage
    I would do this if there was a /. option to NOT display any microsoft or other corps that I would never do business with.

Is a person who blows up banks an econoclast?

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