In the early days, there was a lot fewer options for discussing things online. Kuro5hin started pretty close to the same time as /., and was one of the places where if something happened, you would hear about it. There was a personal journal section(which /. ended up implementing), and a 'front page' and 'sections' that were specific to topics - it was unlike slashdot in that it was democratic -- people would vote on new postings for either front page or section or to dump it, and so, like many websites today, but unlike any really before it, it would be populated with what the people on the website generally wanted to see. It ranged from one of the very first posts announcing wikipedia as a potential project by Larry Sanger, to 'mindless link propagation' of the form of a single link to a website with no commentary really that would be recognizable to, say, a reddit user. Likewise comments were moderated by the commentors, closer to reddit(only with more points involved) than slashdot(which you had to win a lottery of sorts to have the right to moderate comments).
Kuro5hin helped slashdot become what it was, and was a stepping stone towards the internet having its own culture -- slashdot helped reddit, digg exist by means of example, and if you listen closely enough on 4chan and its many offspring subcultures, you can hear the echo of what kuro5hin started: a place that trolls could hone their art(first kuro5hin, then husi/slashdot/gnaa, and somehow from those groups to 4chan and elsewhere where they live today) There's quite a few of us, who joined the internet 2 decades or so ago, who met like minded people in wide discussion threads, like this one, for the first time, and learned from eachother in a way that was, until then, impossible.
I was just a stupid young undergrad, and I had personal differences with one of the guys who started it. But it stood as a monument of what the internet could be: a way to actually make something of a community of the millions who were coming to be online every year. It didn't end up scaling: Long before it hit even 2 million users, people started to lose interest, and the shitpost:post ratio went up. There was some magnificent trolling to come out after things started going downhill, but serious discussion went elsewhere.
there was eventually text-based advertising which was brought in, which was, in and of itself, novel (most advertising of the time was flashy, graphics-based and increasingly hard on system resources). Its minimalistic, targeted ads were much closer to what google had, than what was common for the time -- it sustained itself for awhile that way, though hard to say how well that worked.