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Making a Slashdot Omelet 101

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-alone-in-the-moonlight dept.
It's been said that the mix of stories on Slashdot is like an omelet: linux and tech, mixed with science and Legos, and a few reviews and sci-fi folded in. It's not just the stories that are a good mix, however, it's the people behind them. Through the past 15 years, an unusual cast of characters have been responsible for keeping the site up and running and bringing you the stories you want to read. We've asked a number of them to write a few words about their time working here and to share a few memories. Below you'll find that some of our former employees don't know what "a few words" means, and a collection of what bringing you news for the past 15 years has been like.
Chris DiBona
Right after they had switched from being Chips & Dips to Slashdot, I was working at a company called VA Research. VA Research, at the time, shipped Linux hardware to dotcoms and other people and that was groovy. I liked Slashdot. It was fun. That was really the only place to go to find people who gave a crap about Open Source and free software at the time.

I said to them, "Hey. What if I just send you some hardware so that you can beef up the site a bit." They're like, "Oh my god. That'd be so helpful. Please send it." I did, they got the hardware and it was pretty helpful, it seems. They re-wrote the [Ad Foo], ad servicing system at that point and we were the base ad, so if they had no ad to show, it'd just show a VA Research ad as a thank you to us.

That went on for a year and a half, two years, I want to say, except for in classic Rob, Jeff, me style. It showed the same ad for two years and we would know that the site was broken, or Ad Foo was hosed, because it would show the ad with chips that were four years out of date. That's how I got involved and how I got to know the guys

Nathan Oostendorp
My only real association with the site is with the technology, and what I remember about Slashdot is that it was an entirely "seat of the pants" affair - there were no patterns laid down to follow, it's not like there were a hundred other sites using MySQL and there wasn't much precedent for using a database backend in the first place -- it was routinely even condemned as being risky. We had this feeling of "okay we've discovered that using Perl and MySQL to create pages of HTML is pretty awesome" so we played around a lot. Slashdot was the main thing, but there were a bunch of other projects like DJ Hernandez, which was I guess an early version of Spotify, and the original Everything (cum Everything2) which was kind of a proto-wiki system.

Fundamental to Slashdot was the Story submission and moderation system, and then the comment system, and the several dozen (what would now be called RSS feeds) for "Slashboxes" which at the time were a lot of HTML regex cron jobs from yours truly. We had idea that all the information on the internet was going to be accessible, and Slashdot could be the channel for it. The universe we were living in, everything was accessible and Slashdot could be the "geek lens" for everything to flow thru.

Very quickly we started realizing that we had to make money doing this business and so we created an "open source ad system" called Ad-fu (Inspired by one of the quote by the X-Files Lone Gunmen "my kung-fu is the best"). I spent an inordinate amount of time building this system, which was quixotically designed to put DoubleClick out of business -- once you've mastered mod_perl and databases, scheduling ads and counting the results should be easy, right? Ad-fu was several weeks of my full-time effort and got us through about 18 months and the acquisition by Andover.Net, at which point it was migrated to their Ad System which was written in C and flat files "for scalability"...

After the acquisition my relationship with Slashdot was intermittent -- the "ajax-y" single-page comment system was originally based on a hacked-up prototype I did in grad school in the mid-00s. I got my black belt in Perl, MySQL, and web programming thanks to Slashdot, and it's served me well as a practitioner in the ensuing 15 years.

Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda
15 years ago I spent every spare moment building a website hosted on the silliest domain name I could think of. I ran polls asking how many shots my roommate should drink. I posted stories detailing personal art projects, or explaining how our car broke down driving from Michigan to North Carolina. Somewhere between then and now, amidst all the movie & kernel releases, technological breakthroughs, and ceaseless threats from governments and corporations, I came to understand that Slashdot was itself made out of The Stuff that Matters. My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who remembers.

Jeff "Hemos" Bates
One of the things people often have asked about over the years is, how did you guys know you wanted to build this business? Yeah, well we didn't, is the reality. There was no Machiavellian plan, there is nothing like that, it was absolute sheer evolution, I think that's a good way to put it. Which made for some particularly interesting discussions with BC's and people who wanted to buy it in the early years. Because, they would ask things like, well what is your burn rate. And I would say, well the landlord likes to be paid and I like to eat, so there isn't one.

I think in terms of things that Slashdot did that meant a lot to me or I am proud of, I think the post-Columbine stuff that John Katz did. I know I just said John Katz so we might as well just turn on the troll radar right now. I like John just for the record.

John is a great, very thoughtful guy. And I think that what he did during Columbine, for giving a voice to the freaks and weirdoes, and by no means am I saying that, I don't even remember their names, Eric and Dylan, I guess? That what they did was a good thing. Not at all, that was a terrible, terrible thing. But, I think that the writing that he did and the discussions that happened around that was fantastic. I think that that is a situation that is the epitome of why sites like Slashdot and social media sites are so important and meaningful. It was knitting together people all across the country, and all across the world where they didn't have a lot of people around them that they could talk about this with. They had to go online to find a community that understood what it was that they were trying to say.

Jon Katz
Slashdot was an important place for me, if not a great fit. I loved the energy of the site, and the Linux ethic looks stronger now even than it did then. After Columbine, I wrote a series on the site called "Voices From The Hellmouth" and it was one of the most important pieces I ever did. If convention media had followed the idealism and values of Rob and Jeff, they might not now be such a shambles. Slashdot was a revolutionary website, a landmark in Internet history. I was very proud to have written there.

Emmett Plant
“You wrote for Slashdot?”

I get this a lot, even twelve years after I’d written my last piece. It happened again just two weeks ago, talking to a guy from InfoSec.

I was young, idealistic and had no idea what I was doing. I imagine that for most of us, this is still true. We didn’t write for a market or to capitalize on a trend. We wrote about things we liked, and tried to get other people to like them, too.

A cynical perspective could see Slashdot as a place where angry nerds gather and rant anonymously about the topics of the day, but it misses the point. It’s actually a place where hundreds of thousands of people show up to say, ‘Hey, look at this thing, isn’t it cool?’

Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it’s hell-no, but there’s always an answer.

Nerds are some of the weirdest people you’ll ever meet. They also tend to be intelligent, opinionated and enthusiastically kind. Twelve years later, Slashdot still makes that obvious -- Even when the readers are loudly complaining about software patents, arguing about intellectual property and demanding new Firefly.

“What was it like?”

Rob Malda had managed to learn most of Darth Maul’s moves, and was terrifying with a dual-bladed lightsaber toy. We knew every word to ‘Cowtown’by They Might Be Giants, and we broke out into song while driving down a highway in Michigan. The ‘geek compound’was actually a few houses at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac. Jeff Bates did a killer Dr. Evil impression, and was able to eat clementines at a terrifying pace. The one-and-only time I’d ever visited the aforementioned ‘compound,’I had a flu and was taking a terrifying amount of medication for it, which led to me saying wildly inappropriate things to people I’d just met. No one really seemed to care. I slept on CowboyNeal’s couch, and learned that Rob and I had not only run BBSes ‘back in the day,’but ran them on the same software as well.

I wrote a lot of pieces that I still enjoy to this day. I also wrote a lot of pieces that I’d prefer to never see again. I approved some stories that I shouldn’t have, and rejected a lot of stories that probably should have gotten more attention. Have I mentioned that I had no idea what I was doing?

I enjoyed my time at Slashdot tremendously, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It’s unsettling to know that what you’re typing in vi tonight is going to be in front of more than a million smart people tomorrow morning. Then those smart people will be encouraged to comment on what you write, telling you exactly how much of an unparalleled genius/complete moron you are. They may even make a chart.

No matter what we had to say on the site back then, everything at the time was colored by money. The dot-com investment mania was at full strength, and there was a wildly inaccurate assumption that we were all hip-deep in filthy lucre. Writing about technology isn’t terribly lucrative, even if you’re writing for one of the most popular sites on the planet. Putting the technology to use is considerably more valuable: When I left tech writing and journalism to go back to work as an engineer, my income more-than-doubled.

“All good things...”

I left Slashdot to take over as the editor-in-chief of, which ended up being a beautiful disaster. I went back to engineering for about a year, then took over as the CEO of the Foundation for a while, and then went back to engineering again. I started a production company and was able to fulfill childhood dreams by working on Star Trek and writing a lot of music for video games. My current time is divided between working in systems engineering, managing my production company and training for my private pilot certificate here in the Valley of the Sun.

I still love tech, and I still love sharing cool new things with people I barely know.

I still run Linux machines at home, at work and in outside projects.

I still think the DMCA is a terribly stupid piece of legislation.

I still throw down with pudge on political matters.

I still read Penny Arcade, run a BBS and hang with trekkies.

...and I’m on IRC right now.

Jonathan "CowboyNeal" Pater
My fondest memories of Slashdot are always those that surround the events when people came together to effect a positive change. Starting already in the site's infancy when there was a real push among our readers, spurred on by one of CmdrTaco's editorials, to open the source of Netscape. When it actually came to pass, it was clear that in addition to being a fun way to keep up on the news and waste some time during coffee breaks and slow work days, Slashdot could be a force for good as well. Years later, we still haven't been able to influence any sort of software patent reform, but, we can keep hoping.

I always enjoy the Slashdot interviews. We've been able to interview a diverse group of people that ranges from David Korn and Rob Pike, to mc Chris and Warren Ellis. I feel that that diversity is something that makes Slashdot more interesting than just a technology news site, and the ability to pass questions on to the interviewees from our readers makes for an interesting article.

The other memory foremost in my mind, is of the infamy of being the most ubiquitous Slashdot poll option of all time. I read not long ago via Wikipedia that this was because I was in charge of the polls, and had inserted myself into them. This isn't true at all, but because Wikipedia needs a source to quote, I feel that now for our 15th anniversary, is a good time to set the record straight. While I've never been fully "in charge" of the polls, I did make plenty of polls over the years, but I never put myself into one. The honor and prestige of starting that tradition belongs to Chris DiBona, and even after he moved on from Slashdot, the other editors managed to keep it alive. I'd like to both thank and forgive him, for starting the tradition. I never kept track if I ever won any of the polls, but I have to assume I won at least one of them. That time, whenever it might have been, was pretty sweet too.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who ever emailed me over the years. To be sure, it's often been a deluge of stuff to wade through every morning. I may or may not have had time to respond to your particular email, but I read all of them eventually, even the nasty ones. Thanks for writing me, but most of all, thanks for reading the site. It's the readers that make everything possible.
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Making a Slashdot Omelet

Comments Filter:
  • Thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stirling Newberry (848268) on Friday October 19, 2012 @01:09PM (#41707535) Homepage Journal
    to people who generally have a thankless task.
  • by some old guy (674482) on Friday October 19, 2012 @01:34PM (#41707789)

    Is ./ different from the free-wheeling "I had a beer with Linus yesterday" days? Of course. Slashdot has evolved. Everything evolves.

    Whatever your subjective view of what /. is now, there is no harm in recalling, and appreciating the creators of, the "good old days".

    As several of the authors in TFA said, ./ is what the users make it. It's up to us to add the energy and flavor we want, not the editors. Don't like the article selections? Submit some.

    Personally, I'm a lot more interested in pure geekspeak than business, law, or politics, but that's just me. It is, after all, a community.

    Hail Slashdot!

  • by mooingyak (720677) on Friday October 19, 2012 @01:43PM (#41707895)

    It's been said that the mix of stories on Slashdot is like an omelet: linux and tech, mixed with science and Legos, and a few reviews and sci-fi folded in. It's not just the stories that are a good mix, however, it's the people behind them.

    and now quoting from Pulp Fiction:

    "Let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet."

Today's scientific question is: What in the world is electricity? And where does it go after it leaves the toaster? -- Dave Barry, "What is Electricity?"