Slashdot

The granddaddy of social news communities is Slashdot (http://slashdot.org), which has been around since 1997. Long before anyone was talking about Web 2.0 or social networking, Slashdot's founders were getting their feet wet with recommendations and comments on technology- and science-related web content.

Why is it called “Slashdot?”

The name may sound like the website for a teenage horror film, but it's actually what the founder reportedly called “an obnoxious parody of a URL” meant to confuse. A URL, or universal resource locator, is a web address that is typically full of slashes and “dots.” So if you read it out loud, the Slashdot URL would be “h-t-t-p-colon-slash-slash-slashdot-dot-org.”

Slashdot actually started out as a blog, evolved into more of a news aggregation site, and then added social features and capabilities. Its founder, Rob Malda, was a computer science student posting under the nom de blog “Cmdr Taco.” He still uses that handle in his Slashdot blog.

Today, Slashdot claims to serve up approximately 40 million pages and attract 5 million unique visitors per month. It's also linked to Facebook and Twitter.

“News for Nerds”

Owned by Geeknet Inc., the site bills itself as “News for Nerds,” and that's a fair description in the friendliest sense of those words. The site features user-submitted summaries of stories on a range of technology topics — everything from Linux and open-source software to book reviews, general science and technology, to Apple products. Each summary includes a link to the original source of the story.

The top story summaries are displayed on the home page, and they're collected under Upcoming, Recent, and Popular categories. The home page also features links to subsections that include original Slashdot content. Clicking on “Ask Slashdot,” for example, takes you to a page of advice offered by Slashdot community members on things like jobs, computer hardware, software glitches, and “philosophical problems.” Clicking on “Book Reviews” takes you to a section where you can read — and write — original reviews of mostly (but not necessarily, as the website puts it) tech books.

The Conversation

Unlike other social news sites, Slashdot allows non-members to submit story recommendations. But if you want to do more than hand over the article's web address (URL), you'll have to create an account and log on. Once you log on, you'll be able to write what the site calls a “Journal Entry,” which is a short summary of the story.

That journal entry isn't usually a neutral summary, but the first of the reader comments that accompany these story postings. These conversational threads are the heart of the Slashdot community.

It's important to note that, although Slashdot readers tend to post stories about technology and related topics, they are not restricted to those areas. Articles on political subjects, for example, have been the source of some lively threaded discussions on the site.

Slashdot commenters get rated on a scale that's based on the moderation of their comments. A commenter's rating is her “Karma.” The Slashdot karmic scale rates commenters as Terrible, Bad, Neutral, Positive, Good, or Excellent. Essentially, Karma is used to determine who moderates and who doesn't on Slashdot.

The Moderation System

Unlike other social news sites that put the fate of submitted stories almost entirely into the hands of members of the community, Slashdot relies on something of an editorial vetting process. Users submit stories, but the editors have to approve them.

Also, the comments that accompany those stories are managed by what the site founders call a moderation system. According to Rob Malda, moderators are the cream of Slashdot contributors, chosen by the system for their high-quality posting and commenting. Any Slashdot reader is eligible to become a moderator, depending on factors that include length and regularity of readership, the reader's “Karma,” and willingness to participate, among others. Every thirty minutes the system tallies the number of comments posted and hands out “tokens” to a “proportionate number of eligible users,” Malda explains in the site's FAQ page. Get enough tokens, and you're a moderator. The tokens bestow additional “points of influence,” which moderators use to temper user comments. Moderators rate user comments by adding or subtracting points based on their assessment of whether the comment is perceived as normal, off-topic, funny, insightful, redundant, or interesting, among other descriptors.

Slashdot editors have unlimited “mod points.” The site has been criticized for this practice, but Malda sees it this way: “You can argue that allowing admins unlimited moderation is somehow inherently unfair, but one of the goals of Slashdot is to produce readable content for a variety of readers with a variety of reading habits. I believe this process improves discussions for the vast majority of Slashdot Readers, so it will stay this way.”

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