News for nerds. Stuff that matters. That's the tagline for slashdot.org, a website that between 60,000 and 100,000 users—many of them techies—are logged on to at any given time. Founder Rob Malda tells Design News why.
Describe Slashdot. Basically, Slashdot is a shortcut for the lazy, a kind of Cliff Notes for techies. We point readers to content and ask them what they think about it. Then we manage the flurry of discussion that follows.
How many registered users do you have? I've seen a number like 600,000, but don't believe anybody who tells you that I really know! We have something like 60,000 to 100,000 users logged on at any given time, so I am guessing the actual number of users is closer to a third of a million a year.
Why is Slashdot so popular with engineers? When I first started Slashdot, it was for people I knew, who were mostly Linux guys writing code and working on open source applications. The fact that we were posting information about hardware and software obviously attracted a certain type of reader. What happened then is that other people starting noticing what we were doing, and we began to break on bigger news stories like the Mozilla open source announcement and Columbine. We include the stories that we think are most likely to matter today, but don't go super deep into any particular topic.
The discussion moderation system is key in helping you build your community. How hard is it to do? It is phenomenally hard. I spend huge amounts of my time thinking up ways to improve it and to prevent people from messing with it. If anyone took the information we've learned in the past five years and started from scratch, they could do a better job of it. For example, our moderation scores range from -1 to 5. That's pretty arbitrary. And we're bumping into the problem that a score 4 and a score 5 aren't that different in some discussions. If I were to design the system now, I'd add more points.
How many users actually participate in the discussions? About 60 to 70% of our readers simply read our home page—they're interested, but they know they don't have anything to add to the discussion. There are other people, however, who always have something to say. And they're usually wrong. Which is why we have so many comments rated -1.
Do you make more money from ads or from readers paying to avoid ads? Definitely more money from ads. But I don't worry too much about the business side of the business.
Any plans to take your web model to print? We haven't ruled it out yet. But I don't know what sort of publication would work. The whole nature of Slashdot is that it's good for 12 hours.
What print magazines do you read? Pretty much only comic books.
Last year, you proposed on-line. Your fiancé accepted. What was the response from the community? Typical Slashdot. Some people loved it. Some people hated it.