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15 Years of Stuff That Matters 145

15 years is a long time on the internet. Many websites have come and gone over that time, and many that stuck around haven't had any interest in preserving their older content. Fortunately, as Slashdot approaches its 2^17th story, we've managed to keep track of almost all our old postings — all but the first 2^10, or so. In addition to that, we've held onto user comments, the lifeblood of the site, from 1999 onward. As we celebrate Slashdot's 15th anniversary this month, we thought we'd take a moment to highlight a few of the notable or interesting stories and discussions that have happened here in the past decade and a half. Read on for a trip down memory lane.

The most obvious place to start would be some of the stories listed in the Hall of Fame. While Slashdot isn't a political site, we do post particularly relevant political news, and two of the three most commented-on posts were about the winning of a U.S. presidential election. John Kerry's concession to George W. Bush in 2004 drew 5687 comments, more than half again as much as Barack Obama's victory in 2008. Interestingly, Obama's name was thrown around in the 2004 thread as possible future candidate, but many thought he'd be running for vice president alongside Hillary Clinton or another, more established Democrat name. A few other tidbits: health care was mentioned much more often in the 2008 discussion, while comments on the military were four times as common in 2004. The economy was discussed slightly more in 2004, while mentions of the banking system in 2008 far surpassed the 2004 count.

While a few other political discussions rank in the top 10 for total comments, total views is another story. A quick and simple post about source code leaks for Windows 2000 and NT has garnered over 700,000 views. It generated a great deal of insightful commentary on the security implications of the leak and how the code should be approached by developers curious to get a look. Many users warned others off of glancing at Microsoft code, fearing that copyrighted samples would find their way into open source projects, thus giving Microsoft a tool with which to disrupt the projects. This leak followed one a few months earlier of the Half-Life 2 source code, which garnered a strong but much different reaction. Many called for Valve to go ahead and open source the game, since the cat was out of the bag. Others were worried about the influx of bots and cheats for the game, since the people writing those tools had much clearer access to the game's internals. Still others dropped into a debate about DRM — a debate that wouldn't look out of place in 2012.

Two of our other most popular posts, and two of the most significant to us internally, are posts about somebody trying to get us to delete comments. We've always taken a strong stance both for preserving freedom of speech, and for simply providing a reliable wall upon which readers can scribble their words and know the words won't disappear. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act made that difficult in a few situations, and we made sure to be open and transparent about what happened. In early 2000, Microsoft asked us to kill off a few comments. We asked you folks how we should proceed, and you had no shortage of suggestions. Then, almost a year later, the Church of Scientology happened to notice a Slashdot comment which contained copyrighted text: part of the Fishman Affidavit, court documents that contained church course materials as well as criticism of the organization and its leadership. This was part of a war Scientology had been waging for several years to keep the documents secret. We were forced to remove the comment, but CmdrTaco's notification post thoroughly demonstrated how useless such an action was in the digital age, and encouraged people to reach out to their representatives to speak against the DMCA. He wrote, "This is the first time since we instituted our moderation system that a comment has had to be removed because of its content, and believe me nobody is more broken-hearted about it than me." He also went out of his way to point out the bad press surrounding the church for various other incidents. Fortunately, those types of requests seem to be largely behind us, now.

As the site evolved in those early days, the staff began to realize that the Slashdot community wasn't just absorbing the news and moving on; it was digesting the news and coming back with knowledgeable additions in the discussion. As interesting as an article may be, the community's response to it could generate informed discussion that surpassed the article tenfold. The staff considered how to harness this attribute to help the community, and shortly thereafter Ask Slashdot was born. In the time since then, almost 10,000 reader questions have been answered by other readers, and they frequently form the basis for the site's most informative discussions. The most popular was certainly "What's keeping you on Windows?" from 2002, a question that was revisited almost a decade later. Many of the specific reasons changed in that time, but the ability to easily play games was a sticking point for users in both discussions. There have been many common refrains over the years: how to get into IT or programming, how to get kids into it, what kind of phone/GPU/HDD/monitor to buy, or how best to put together some arcane but useful device or program. They occasionally get rather esoteric: questions about finding beautiful code, depressing sci-fi, or trying to pin down the biggest lies told by hardware and software vendors. Ask Slashdot is also sometimes used as a method of defense. Early this year, when the Stop Online Piracy Act and its sibling PIPA threatened freedom of speech on the web, we used it as a vehicle to show precisely why the legislation was bad, and figure out what more could be done to prevent them from being signed into law.

Slashdot's audience has always been very much about science, as well. This manifests itself in several different ways. For one, since readers' level of scientific education is higher, on average, than the general population's, any attack on science meets with strong opposition. For example, debates about creationism in the classroom spark a great deal of interesting discourse. While there's often a fair amount of vitriol, there are also well-reasoned and politely stated arguments. Other science-related topics sidestep the arguing in favor of excitement and wonder; when SpaceShipOne achieved the X-prize in 2004, the comment section was ripe with hopes for the commercial space sector (which is continuing to blossom today) and the possibility of ubiquitous spaceflight in our lifetimes. More recently, the discussion of CERN's supposed faster-than-light neutrinos, which took place over many months, brought into sharp relief the difficulties bleeding-edge science faces, and the resilience of the scientific method itself, which compelled researchers to come forward with results they suspected were wrong and then engage the scientific community in the task of confirming or repudiating them.

One of the greatest things about the Slashdot community is its above average level of understanding for all things technical. Commenters, submitters, and interviewees alike understand they don't have to use layman's terms to describe complex concepts. One of the best examples happened earlier this year when a group of fusion researchers from MIT got together to answer questions from readers on the state of fusion power. They didn't hold back, and were happy to provide a ton of very interesting information on how fusion reactors work, what it will take to make it a viable technology, what the safety issues are, and more. Similarly, there have been some fantastic, techinical answers from people like John Carmack, Vint Cerf, and Bjarne Stroustrup. But even when the interviews aren't highly technical, the community's strong opinions can lend themselves to contentious but productive discussions, as happened with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich over the band's fight against file sharing, a Marketing exec for Microsoft Windows over some of the company's competitive practices, and Richard Stallman about the ethics of free software and open source.

It's also interesting to go back and look at stories that flew under the radar at the time, but later developed into huge, ongoing news items. For example, the launch of WikiLeaks in 2007 met mainly indifference and doubts that such a repository could do anything useful. Similarly, Google's unveiling of Android in 2007 brought a lot of speculation as to how open it would be and whether another phone OS could succeed. Facebook didn't get a mention on the site until late 2005, and its opening to the public the next year brought skepticism that it could trump MySpace or operate without compromising user privacy. The announcement of SpaceX by Elon Musk was blandly titled "Another Private Space Startup." Wikipedia got a couple of mentions in early 2001, even from Jimmy Wales himself. And, not exactly under the radar, but who can forget the early critique of Apple's original iPod?

On a more somber note, this collection of old stories wouldn't be complete without mentioning the day of September 11th, 2001. Here is how the page looked that day. News organizations around the world got a lesson in how people flock to the internet in times of emergency, and Slashdot was no exception. Readers congregated to share news as it was happening, and the staff frantically shut off portions of the site to keep it from buckling under the strain. It's a set of problems that have largely been solved in 2012, but they were new back then.

We hope this walk back through Slashdot's history provided a nostalgic diversion for you. With over 120,000 to pick from, it's inevitable that we'll leave some good ones out, so feel free to share in the comments any particular stories that have stuck in your memory. A lot of you have been around and contributing to the site for years, and we hope you'll stick around for years more. This is part of our 15-year anniversary celebration — if you haven't heard yet, we've also launched the beta of a revamped mobile site, and we've set up a page to coordinate user meet-ups. We'll be continuing to run some special pieces throughout the month (none so navel-gazey as this, and a lot of interviews with interesting people), so keep an eye out for those.

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15 Years of Stuff That Matters

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