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Slashdot: A final look


September 29 2012

In today's blog, I wrap my series on Slashdot which I have written about in two previous blog entries.

The decline of Slashdot

Once upon a time, famous people posted to Slashdot. John Carmack and Wil Wheaton, to name just two, were regular posters there.

No longer. Carmack hasn't posted anything to Slashdot for over four years; Wheaton has only posted a single journal to Slashdot in the last three years.

I have already mentioned that one reason for Slashdot's decline is that it started catering to the immature pro-piracy crowd. There are a number of other reasons why Slashdot became less appealing:

  • The flame wars. Just like Usenet, once Slashdot starting getting popular, it attracted the kinds of Internet loudmouths that make an online community unpleasant for everyone else.

  • Beating the dead horse of Linux vs. Windows on the desktop. The Slashdot editors never let go of the 1990s Linux vs. Windows on the desktop war which Microsoft won in 2002. To sound like a cynical Slashdot poster: 1997 called and wants their "Micro$oft Windoze sucks" post back.

  • Becoming more political. Slashdot started off concentrating on the Linux-vs-Windows desktop war and cool little geek projects (making a computer case that looks like an old Atari 800, etc.) Over the years Slashdot focused less on "News for Nerds" and slowing became more and more a ticker for news stories I already saw on other websites a day or two before it made Slashdot; more and more political stories started to get posted on Slashdot.

    For a website that makes money from page views and ad clicks, it makes a lot of sense to post an inflammatory political article and watch the inevitable flame war start. But that was not good for Slashdot's community.

These factors, among others, have contributed to Slashdot's slow decline.

Moving on

Some geeks have decided that Slashdot's problems could be resolved by going to a different geek-friendly web site. The progression usually has been like this:
  • Slashdot was one of the first web-based geek friendly online communities.

  • Some people went from Slashdot to Kuro5hin. Kuro5hin's problem is that it ended up requiring people to pay to be able to post there, which is a big no-no among the "freetard" geeks who think everything on the Internet should be free. It ended up getting taken over by the kind of demented "trolls" who used to plague Slashdot with Goatse pics and who say stuff they don't really believe just to get negative attention. It's a stagnant community; the last article to make front page is from nearly half a year ago.

  • People then moved from Slashdot (or possibly Kuro5hin) to Digg. Digg suffered from the "disagree, down-vote" problem for a long time before the site revamped their comment system.

  • People then moved from Digg to Reddit. I have never been an active member of this community, so I can not comment on how good this site is, but it appears to appeal to a more immature user base than Slashdot or Digg ever did.

  • People then supposedly moved from Reddit to Hacker News. Again, I have not had a chance to fully evaluate this community, but I suspect it has many of the problems Slashdot has, and, unlike Slashdot, discourages long comments.
For me, jumping from community to community like this isn't the solution to the underlying problems these kinds of communities have. One fundamental issue with geek-friendly sites is that a lot of people with the kind of mind needed to be a good computer programmer do not have very good social skills and often times lack empathy or compassion for other people's feelings. Also, sites that predominantly use anonymous identities -- something all of five site I listed do -- tend to bring out the worse in people.

In contrast to these "geek-friendly" communities, Facebook is successful because:

  • It discourages anonymity.

  • It allows people to fine-tune how public or private their posts are.

  • It has killfiles, something lacking with most web-based communities.

The death of Slashdot

Now that Slashdot has been bought out, its days are numbered. There just is no money to be made pandering to a community of grouchy cynical users who think everything on the Internet should be free.

It's interesting that Slashdot, Sourceforge, and a couple of other non-notable sites, combined, were worth only 20 million dollars. Alexa's stats for Slashdot are very telling and probably explain why they were eager to sell the site for so little: Ever since mid-2011, Slashdot's Alexa rank has been in a steady decline. It had an Alexa rank of 1,100 or so in the first quarter of 2011 -- in other words, it was roughly the 1100th most popular site on the Internet. Right now its Alexa rank is higher than 2000; nearly 1,000 sites have become more popular than Slashdot in the last 18 months or so.

Slashdot is in the same death spiral that Usenet has been in since the late 1990s: It is losing users, its user base is becoming older, and it is not getting enough new users to replace the users it's losing, much less grow.

My final thoughts on Slashdot

While I am no longer an active part of Slashdot's community, I will continue lurking there. Slashdot is best when it talks about technology and working in the technology industry; the comments from experienced middle-aged IT workers and managers are still very enjoyable to read.

Slashdot is a place with a lot of nostalgia. It reminds me of a job I had in Mountain View, back when SGI and Sun were still around and when it was Netscape (not Google) who rented the most office space in that town, getting paid too much to do too little work for a tiny consulting company. I would sit at our Linux server and use it to read Slashdot when our company didn't have enough contracts to keep us busy. That company, like many others, did not survive the dot-com washout.

The world has moved on it's time for me to look beyond Slashdot and other time-wasting sites on the Internet.

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