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sootman's Journal: How to make Slashdot better

Journal by sootman
These thoughts are by no means original. I just have them rattling around in my head and putting them down onto (virtual) paper will free up resources for other tasks. I'll write this in terms of "you" rather than "they" in the hopes that someday, someone who actually has input in how Slashdot works will read these ideas and implement them. (Update: OK, looking this over, I see I kind of meandered around and change person and tense throughout. Maybe I'll fix that someday.)

Slashdot is great. But there are a few rough edges that continually poke through the surface, like springs in a couch, that spoil the experience to various degrees. It would take so little effort to make these changes and the rewards would be so great--truly an example of the 90/10 rule.

Let's start with the two biggest gripes about Slashdot: things that come up so frequently and have been around for so long that they're practically clichés: dupes and grammar.
  1. It is absolutely trivial to check for dupes manually. Just use Google (Slashdot's own search isn't that great) to see if the topic has been covered before. If it seems to have been covered before, look closely to see if this is the same news or something related or a follow-up. If it is, feel free to post the new story, but make it clear that this is new and not a dupe.

    It is almost as trivial to create an automated system to check for dupes. Just have something that looks for keywords in the subjects, checks the URLs in the story, etc. If there is a match, raise some flags.
  2. Grammar: please. You call yourselves 'editors' but you are, at the moment, wholly undeserving of that title. Start with a spellcheck. Proceed to a grammar check. Here's an idea: have someone else look it over, too. I don't expect everyone on the staff to have a Master's in English. But there are plenty of typos, misspellings, and other major errors, to say nothing of awkward phrasing and other unpleasantness, that trip people up when reading the summaries. You are editors, not journalists: your job is to edit submissions, making them worthy of reading, not to treat the submitter as a source whose words you have a sacred duty to present exactly as delivered. Take the time to make it good. This isn't a race. You're not "scooping" anyone. This isn't Digg.

    And the same goes for the headlines. Headline writing, like everything else, is an art. Plenty of Slashdot headlines have to be read more than once to make sense. On the one hand, yes, they should by nature be brief; on the other hand, this is not a newspaper and every inch is not infinitely precious. Go for clarity over brevity.

    And for God's sake, quit being downright inaccurate or misleading with the headlines. I mean that's just common sense. There is bias, there are slants, there are interpretations, but being downright wrong is inexcusable.

    For tips on grammar, news writing, and headline writing, go here and here.

There are three other major things that need to be fixed with submissions.

  1. Don't link to blogs that link to the story. Yes, the submitter supplied the story, but ten other people probably did, too. They can supply a name, if if they supply a URL their name gets made into a link as well. That is reward enough. If he's hoping for page views and ad impressions, that will have to do. There is no reason I should look at his two-line "Check out this story on Ars/Anandtech/news.com/NYT" blog entry on my way to get to the actual story in question.
  2. Don't editorialize too much in the submission. And for the love of God, quit adding dopey questions to the end of submissions: anything from "What do you think?" to that hated old standby, "Is this the end of Microsoft/Windows/Office/Linux/Apple/SCO/America?" This is a discussion site. People who come here know this. We don't need a third-grade-style prompt to get the discussion going. All that does is generate two hundred posts of "No, Zonk, you're an idiot" (along with the inevitable and useless "yes/no/maybe" tags) and take away from the real discussion.
  3. This is an issue less than some other things but it is absolutely essential: do some fact checking. Check to see if this is five-year-old news that some random guy just now discovered. Check to see if it's a hoax, or an out-of-date item that has since been debunked/refuted/disproved. Read the article and see if the submission is even correct. Here's on example of posting a complete mistruth. Thankfully this was corrected, but that's a relatively rare case.

There are plenty of minor things as well.

  1. Be aware that not everyone knows everything. This site does have a certain audience with some things in common, so we don't need a link to clarify what Linux is, but many other things could use some clarification, especially new and/or uncommon acronyms. (Speaking of acronyms, follow the old rule: say what they mean the first time they appear. Just because it didn't occur to the submitter to spell it out until he had written it three times, doesn't mean you have to do the same. Remember: edit!) Use your judgment, and show it to at least two other people. Again, not doing so devalues the discussion: rather than talking about the topic, you get 50 posts telling you what the topic is.
  2. Read the comments. Update the story as needed. If a bunch of people write to say that a story is wrong, fix it! This is the Internet, not a print piece. Make the change--with an 'Update:' notification, of course--but for God sakes, don't let errors of fact sit there forever. I don't expect the editors to be perfect in their application of the above tips, but I do expect them to take advantage of the millions of volunteer helpers who point out errors.

Other:

  1. Don't allow ACs to post links.
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How to make Slashdot better

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