The Original Innovator

Trends and websites develop, peak, and diminish at light speed. Slashdot has been around for 15 years, a boast few websites can make. It remains a popular news source “for nerds,” as it has always proudly proclaimed.

In 1997 “Chips and Dips” started as a blog (when “blog” wasn’t really a word) of news that interested its creator, Rob Malda. Later that year, it was registered as Slashdot.org. It grew quickly to an impressive readership and evolved from “news for nerds” to things that branched across technology and beyond. The current topics range from Advertising to Entertainment to Politics to Your Rights Online.

Timothy Lord, one of the long-time editors, said that Slashdot has not affected the internet as much as it has reflected the general nature of the web. More than news and information, the Internet has become more and more geared toward the unlimited social potential.

And social potential there is. “Then as now… the comments (and the discussion system) are what made [Slashdot] different from most sites,” said Lord. “The actual items posted to start off each discussion were usually interesting to me, but really were incidental to the breadth of commentary and knowledge that emerged,” he added. “…sometimes the reasons to discount or reject a particular story’s gist are far more interesting than its face value.”

In late 1999, Johan Ingles, Deputy Editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, received an article on cyber terrorism. He took some questions to Slashdot readers, because he felt they could answer him better than the author could. Following the comments and emails he received, he decided to not run the article. Instead, he followed up with Slashdot readers to create a new feature on cyber terrorism hype.

Today, proponents of citizen journalism, or open source journalism, mark this as the first example of the movement, while Robin “roblimo” Miller marks it as the beginning of formal crowdsourcing. Whatever the name, it marks a huge shift in the way people look at journalism: as a conversation rather than something set in stone.

And Slashdot’s focus has been trained on conversation. Actual submissions are short. Comments are rarely deleted, barring the time the DMCA threatened litigation. “Slashdot has always favored wide-open discussion rather than vetting comments individually before they’re put out in the wild; we’d rather let the truth out than only approve comments that the handful of editors like,” said Lord.

But with an open forum came trolls and the like, so Slashdot has had to make adjustments. Moderation (aka M1) in Slashdot works like jury duty. “You never know when you’ll be selected, and when you get it, you only do it for a little bit,” according to the FAQ. Moderators rate comments on a -1 to 5 scale, and attach tags like Insightful, Funny or Flamebait. You can see a less sophisticated version of user moderation under YouTube videos, where users can like or dislike comments, as well as flag for spam. Similar to the Slashdot model, comments are deleted because of too many dislikes. Unlike YouTube, Slashdot will still let you view the downvoted comments.

Malda introduced Metamoderation (aka M2) in September of 1999, but no one seems to know where the idea for M2 came from, although Lord attributes it to Malda. M2 is one of the unique innovations to come out of Slashdot. It lets users moderate the moderations. Users have to be among a certain percentage of the oldest accounts in the system to become a metamoderator. From there, they rate moderations as fair or unfair.

The people are the powerhouse behind Slashdot. The wide-ranging and sometimes heated discussion is aided by a certain sense of anonymity. Though they poke at their anonymous commenters (attributed under “Anonymous Coward”), Lord said, “We know anonymity is powerful and sometimes important.”

“I’m still drawn to [Slashdot] because of the deep way that readers are participants, not just passive consumers… and for the emphasis on effects of and risks to freedom in the modern age. To me, that includes cautionary stories about things like overbearing patents, encroaching surveillance, and data mining… but also much more positive developments in encryption, personal fabrication techniques, and ever more flexible communications,” Lord said.

Thanks to its dedicated readership, and editors who are more willing to engage, Slashdot remains an open forum for discussion on just about everything. Its center on free-flowing conversation and debate that adds to the news is what makes this website the original innovator of user-centric content and social journalism.

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