Hello. Despite having the moniker of Unski (meaningless in most countries, paitsi Suomessa), I will introduce myself to the room by my even blander real-world handle of Mark, currently resident in Liverpool, UK. I don't usually 'do' this, but sometimes something has to give. I don't think it matters that this won't get read, I still feel the need to leave my mark here, in the place I once felt some affection for. For my sins I am a PHP-abusing web developer, and whilst I am not incapable of expressing myself, I am typically silent in most websites I patronise. Slashdot has been the exception to that rule.
It was great in the beginning. I think for me the beginning was around 2001. For the next four years, I lurked, drinking up conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. It was like every nerd stereotype 80's American sitcoms had ever tried to sell to me actually existed. DIY Rocket kits discussed. Extended debates on the right way to make coffee. Heated, prolonged, Gordian arguments on programming style, software development management and The One True Syntax. Teenager tried to build nuke in shed: Discuss. And, in 2001, a debate about the relative merits of Windows vs. Linux was interesting to me. (I had been introduced to Linux - Suse 6.1 - in 2000 by a patient housemate, but had never seen much evidence of it being in use in the world I lived in so /. became the home for all things Linux after we parted ways.)
So much of this was porn to me, I can't begin to describe how fascinating - and occasionally revolting - the experience of being a fly on the Slashdot wall was. Funny news stories involving teenagers, worried security officials and computers accompanied by a Monty Python Foot - great! Article detailing the new anti-piracy measures in the upcoming XP release accompanied by an icon depicting Bill Gates as Borg - priceless. All sorts of experts from all manner of fields are active members on Slashdot, and it was even sometimes exciting to see them dismissing hearsay and hype with the unwelcome details of reality.
I didn't bother to mention Slashdot to colleagues or others in my life; I'd be embarrassed to show them Slashdot on nearly any given day. I have to admit, in writing this, it is hard to put a price on what I have had from Slashdot over the years.
That's probably why I am writing at all - to remind myself of what this place is and why I have ever bothered to participate. Slashdot was there when I was running on empty, unemployed and barely able to afford living expenses for six months between 2001 and 2002, giving me light relief from a bleak situation. It was there when I would come home from various nights of self-abuse, sobering me up, cheering me up. It was a bit like the feeling of coming home to a safe place as a teenager who had gotten out of his depth, from time to time. When I was violently mugged one late-night in April 2002, I couldn't face leaving the house for a day or so after, guess where I went to whilst I tried to find my sense of perspective?
So I read Slashdot. I liked Slashdot. Slashdot entertained me and kept me abreast of the developments in my field. For a while I was definitely an obsessive-compulsive page-refresher, though I got on top that and learned to use this engrossing, time-eating resource in a responsible manner. The relationship continued, though as I said before, it was something of a one-sided relationship as I did not register and contribute. I would like to say it was for the most positive of reasons that I eventually did register and login in 2005, but in fact it was only so I could control what I saw more certainly.
For the last year ('04-'05) or so, one story poster had been doing my head in constantly. I can't produce the exact sequence of inane stories which triggered this desire, but Slashdot seemed to have become the sock into which Zonk liked to ejaculate his stories all too regularly. I had to get rid of them, I could stands them no more. Taco would post something, Zonk would run with the theme and post five more stories on said topic, destroying the diversity I like in Slashdot. I think checking out Zonk and seeing a picture of him in a trendy, retro flat-cap sealed it for me there and then. I registered, logged-in and blocked Zonk.
As a now occasional contributor, I was starting to get a feel for how the system works. I think it is in some way fairer to describe it as an ecosystem. In the year 2006 I think perceptions have changed enough to be able to see how this could be; although there is a distinct, documented system running the show - Slashcode - I think ecosystem is applicable in a social sense. As a quasi-democracy, posters don't get rated by some implausibly objective system, they are rated by their peers using a limited number of categories. I don't need to tell you about that, but I would like to add my voice to those Slashdotters who feel the categories are in need of some attention. I would argue that the number of categories should increase (very moderately) and that some of the existing ones need re-examining. I would also suggest that the double-edged swords of 'Offtopic' and 'Flamebait' require the agreement of at least one other moderator, so that they cannot be (mis-)applied so readily. I choose to stop suggesting at this point, as I do feel quite certain that there is little I could suggest which hasn't been suggested before.
As I continued to participate, I started to feel the injustice of mis-moderations more and more. I willingly accept being labelled as 'Redundant' when I am not the first to say the same thing. I never try to 'Troll', though lately it's been a delicious temptation. Remember I not typically much a participant in anything, so it was a surprise to me to find myself getting angry. I am normally better than that, but recently I have reached a point where I am being downright childish.
Which brings me to the present day. I have bad karma, and I feel badly done-by. I know as much as anyone that Slashdot is the last place in the world to peddle a hard-luck story; say you had a bad day and ten more will say theirs was worse. I had come to the conclusion that A) I had just had some mis-moderations applied to me, get over it, shit happens and B) I was being a little too vocal in criticising the site that had given me so much over the years. One member of the community, observing more than a touch of spite in my latest post, asked 'why are you here at all?' I checked out his user page and journal entries, looking for clues as to how to be a better Slashdotter, instead finding only more reasons to justify the way I feel about it: Cliquey Bitch-fest.
It's all about the system, less about the debate. Read this extract from his journal and tell me this teenager hasn't missed the point a little:
"I really like the friend/foe system, it's a great way to spot people whose posts you like to read. I primarily use foe for those people whose posts I consider so hopelessly stupid that they make my blood pressure rise. I give a +2 bonus for friends, -3 for foes, +1 for friends of friends and fans, -1 for freaks, and no change for foes of friends--if I remember correctly, these numbers were selected based on the threshold numbers so that I'd see friends' posts. When I see a post which I really like(or a person friends me), I click on said person's 'page' and, if they have one, read their journal. If they don't have a journal, I click on random posts in their history, which I prefer reading journals to because I think journals tend to show a person's thoughts and opinions better.
Now to fans and freaks: Amazingly, I have more fans than freaks. ;) Although if you remove the fans which I met elsewhere and are fans because of that, you get the same number."
To me, Slashdot is about the debate. The cut and thrust, the parrying of learned individuals respectfully debating the issue at hand. When I moderate I try judge the worth of the argument rather than my level of agreement with it. When I meta-moderate I try to judge the accuracy of the mod category, rather than my level of agreement with the statement. I've never added anyone to my Foe list. I am contemptuous of the mere concept of it.
To him, Slashdot is MSN. Slashdot is about a long list of contacts and blocked contacts. It is about playing to the limits of the system, it is about enforcing the system. Ultimately, IMO, it is about exclusivity.
This journal entry is my response to all of that, and writing it helped me arrive at the answer:
I have been here a long time, I have taken and I have contributed, but I feel now that after five years I have seen it all on Slashdot. I now know what will be said on most topics before it is written. I can tell which comments will get censored, I mean, down-modded, and which will be cheered on by the fan-boys. I can see the headlines and predict with some accuracy which innuendos will ensue. Politics, Technology, Science, Religion - I have sat here and watched the dregs of humanity attempt to wreak their little bit of power negatively over sincere posters who argue because they care about something. I have sat and watched people from less well-known parts of the world be drowned in a sea of white, pasty, middle-aged American voices. I've witnessed Petrol-Heads receiving validation and normal conversation as if it doesn't matter that their stinking SUV's symbolise their deep selfishness, from like-minded Petrol-Heads. Just casually talking dirty to each other about how fast 'theirs' goes. I've witnessed Windows advocates getting modded off-topic in generalised OS discussions within minutes because they simply are not Linux fans. That in itself has severely dampened my interest in Linux. I've witnessed Linux advocates make good general points only to get something slightly wrong and be highly-savaged by their peers. I've witnessed Perl users being able to chip-in to any programming conversation about any language with near-impunity. I've watched posters blatantly whore for karma by unnecessarily declaring their love for the penguin and succeed in gaining pats on the back from less than impartial moderators.
Zealotry. Exclusivity. Extreme In-group, Out-group behaviour. I find it all too repulsive and I need a break, but I can't let this go quietly when I have been a member far too long. Thank you and good night.