Tuesday, April 03, 2012

No SOPA or April Fools: Slashdot is officially dead

The site known as "Slashdot" was famous during the dotcom boom. It pioneered blogging, user-generated content, comment moderation, karma, and other features now common on today's web. It was the primary news site for the hackers who were building the Internet. It was famous for the "Slashdot" effect: when a story hit the front page of Slashdot, the hordes of hackers following the links would overload any website mentioned in the story. It was famous for "karma", as hackers competed to increase their site ranking by providing informative, insightful comments to stories.

But over the years, Slashdot as slid into irrelevancy. It remained largely unchanged for 15 years while other sites innovated. The "Slashdot" effect is more likely to come from Reddit, Twitter, or YCombinator than it is from Slashdot itself.

The "nail in the coffin" for Slashdot was the Jan 18 SOPA/PIPA protest. As other sites blacked out, like Wikipedia and Reddit, Slashdot continued business as usual. It mentioned the blackout, but only as yet another story that hackers might be interested in. It failed to participate in the hacker cause, as it would've at its height.

The same thing happened for "April 1". Historically, Slashdot was a leader in posting April Fools prank stories. This year, it posted none.

Slashdot actually died last August 2011 when its founder Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda finally quit. But we didn't realize it had died. For all we knew, he could've passed the torch to the next generation of smart hackers. But the lack of a Jan 18 blackout or April Fools pranks prove otherwise. The lights are on, but nobody is home. Its corporate owner is leaving the servers on as long as advertising pays for it, but is doing nothing else to the site.

Slashdot was on life support even before CmdTaco left. The wannabes had long ago chased away the real hackers. Once the leader in comment moderation, it now fails to separate signal from noise. It once decided to cap moderation at a measly +5 points, but that's now that's too few. Comments appealing to popular prejudices ("Microsoft is evil") quickly get those +5 points for being "insightful", drowning out truly insightful comments. In contrast, comment moderation actually works on Reddit and StackExchange. Moreover, your "karma" or "ranking" on these sites is what matters. People are even putting their ranking on StackExchange on their resumes, to demonstrate their mastery in their field.

I've been Slashdotted around once a year since 1998, back when I served my site from a DSL line on a Pentium 90-MHz server. Nowadays, even when one of my blog posts makes it onto the Slashdot front page, I'll still get more hits coming from Reddit or YCombinator or Twitter or Facebook.

For hackers, there is a lesson here: innovate or die. Slashdot was so afraid of losing existing readers that it failed to make necessary changes to attract new readers. The Internet is a source of constant revolution – no matter how many years you are ahead of the competition, they will catch up, and they will surpass you. The new "Slashdotted" is what they did to themselves – remain static for 15 years while everything else passed them by.

So Slashdot, I'll miss you. In the dotcom boom, your nerd news indeed mattered. I visited your site several times a day to see what was going on. I eagerly read what other hackers had to say about a story, and I competed to write original, interesting comments myself to max out my karma. But these days, visiting your site is a painful experience, like going back to the town where you grew up where everyone you knew has moved away.

R.I.P 2012


Henri Salo said...

Sorry, but our opinion differs. I do not think that everyone should put their site down because of SOPA/PIPA and definitely not make april fools day stuff if they have more important things to do.

Peregr1n said...

I stopped reading Slashdot around three years ago. What killed it for me was its incredibly focused US-centric reporting; not something that's apparent to Americans of course, but other upcoming news/social/nerdy sites did a much better job of localisation. Hell, even twitter can be superlocal if you want it to be.

There are plenty of other reasons too... I remember commenting that the Times font on the site was dull and outdated. The (upvoted) response was that I should be making my own default style sheet for my browser, so sites without a set style could be viewed as I prefer. Yeah... that's not going to pull in the new generation.

Sad to see a once great giant slide into decline, but as you said, innovate or die.

pankkake said...

> comment moderation actually works on Reddit

No. I agree on your views of Slashdot's evolution, but Reddit's userbase is the most despicable I have ever seen, and it's not getting better.

Facts are downvoted, tired memes are upvoted, and it looks like most of the comments are made for the sole purpose of karma. Giving unrestricted, unlimited votes is a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd have to agree with the pankkake, who said that reddit moderation does *not* work. Unlike slashdot in it's heydey, you don't see many divergent (but intelligent) opinions being voted up -- reddit is basically just a popularity contest at this point.

Slashdot still has the edge in proviing more background around stories, too. Reddit users constantly editorialize on serious news pieces (which have been declining as of the last few years), whereas Slashdot still manages to at least try to show other opinions (or even the existence of other opinions).

But I may be biased, since I'm working on a project to try to take the best things from reddit (socially aggregated news), and slashdot (background information) -- along with some other niceties that I thought were missing from both.

Check it out at http://quippd.com/about/intro and shoot me an email if you have any feedback: asif@quippd.com

No comment moderation yet, but we think we can do better - it's not enough to just have a popularity contest, though, imo.

Ryan Melton said...

I'm working a new solution to amount of junk on Reddit, etc with the theory that users won't leave junk comments or posts using their real identities. The product is called Narf. You can check it out at http://narf.com. I just launched so its pretty quiet, but hopeully that will change soon. :)

Anonymous said...

Do you know what "officially" means?

Anonymous said...

I think Slashdot did run stories for the majority of the day on Jan 18 regarding SOPA/PIPA. http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/01/18/0834219/ask-slashdot-what-can-you-do-about-sopa-and-pipa

Anonymous said...

I saw this and about crapped, then I realized it was April Fools.

Anonymous said...

Slash dot died for me about 4 years ago. They thought they were a billion dollar company. Now nobody even cares about it. Just like Digg.


IGnatius T Foobar said...

Slashdot may have been popular but it was never all that high quality. Even at its peak it was full of 15-year old "d00dz" pretending to be 40 year old IT managers.