What we can learn from Slashdot

If you have been around for the internet for any amount of time than you have probably heard about the various methods that are used to circulate links around the internet. I started getting into the technology thing after a lot of people realized that I could make my way around a UI with relative ease and encouraged me to go about liking computers. One of the results of that early fostering of my computer skills was an introduction to sites that were heavily focused on technology [a few names jump to mind, including /.] . These sites essentially fostered my early growth and development and took me from a kid who knew how to write a few silly and pointless websites in xhtml and css to a soon to be graduate in the field of computer and information technology. But, as with time, link aggregation websites move on and change, and so to has my taste in the type of website I visit.

Now, if you read my blog with any regularity [and you’re not my mother], than you’re probably aware that I frequent Reddit for most of my content aggregation needs. This is mostly because I have grown to truly like the Reddit community and all the things that come with it. Now, you probably are also aware that I have done my fair share of complaining about things that happen over at Reddit simply because… well why not?

Now a lot of people have issues with the way Reddit handles itself, hence why Reddits like TrueReddit and TrueTrueReddit were developed, as a sort of barrier against the rising popularity of the site. This allowed Reddit to remain as a source or gathering point for the best of the best when it comes to content aggregation. As I hinted at in a previous post this sort of thing comes off as a bit pretentious to me. I’m not saying that it’s the worst way to go about attempting to solve the problem, as undoubtedly it does serve to stem the flow of “LOL LOOK WHAT I DID GUYS” kind of post. Part of Reddit; however, is the community that comes along with it. I probably wouldn’t have stayed at Reddit as long if it weren’t for that “Internet Sense of Belonging” that comes with it, and it brings me to the point of this whole post. There are a lot of people who complain about the small things in Reddit and wonder how those things can be addressed, well I think I might have the solution.

If we look at the various social networking sites over the years we can start to look at their failure points and use that as a platform from which we can use the software [not counting on the community] to begin to create the “Perfect Link Aggregation System”, or what tech nerds have always dreamed of. So the following is a mildly comprehensive list the various information Aggregation sites [even if they don’t proclaim to be as such] and the pros and cons that come with each site.

Slashdot Icon

Slashdot – Now, a few things need to be said about /., most of which could be summed up with “It is the internet Legend of content aggregation, doubting it will bring about the wrath of Cowboy Neal [Never thought I’d use that kind of joke again]”. It provided the very basis of content aggregation well before the age of things like Digg, Reddit, and the likes. As such it takes a special place among our list of link aggregation sites much like Seinfeld is only funny because it did everything first.

Pros

  • A unique moderation system – With the +5 troll, etc. allowing people to sort the various Slashdot comments by what they were looking for [funny, intelligent, or trolltastic]. It is beyond me why other sites left this one to Slashdot as it was one of its more awesome features
  • Memes – Now, I know that a lot of people think that memes are these horrible things that destroy websites, but follow me here. Memes are what generate the core of the community and allow for this sense of belonging once you have learned the memes.
  • Filtered News – This allowed for only a select amount of content to actually hit the front page of the site and kept the signal to noise ratio down to a polite minimum

Cons

  • Filtered News chosen by EditorsNow, the filtered news might be nifty, except that the community only had so much input in what got to the front, in the long run it was all controlled by /.’s various editors and staff. This meant that your chance of actually having a story you liked or wanted to see published kept to a low if the editors simply didn’t think it was worthy content
  • A miserable commenting system – The Slashdot site design and commenting system are a legacy of when Web 2.0 was an evil dream and the thing which fueled it were bad people with only money in mind. As such Slashdot has always and will probably always have this horrible deep vomit green color scheme and a commenting system that just reeks of “OH GOD WHY” making following a conversation a chore.
  • No Collective Metric – I don’t know if Slashdot has changed this one, as I haven’t gone back since mid 2006 I want to say, but back when I was surfing the site there was no true way to track how “popular” you were, no comment karma, nothing. And if you think that comment karma is stupid, think again, it can be a single driving factor in people feeling wanted or special. Hell, I base this blog’s popularity off of how many hits per day I get, and we all know that’s an arbitrary number.

That's Digg with two g's Digg – I heard about Digg just before they did their huge push from “Technology Only” to “Community Wide”. They were a site that had a lot of links, didn’t look like they had just come from the 1990’s and had that sense of humor that I really liked every so often. Started by Kevin Rose, Digg was a site that was going to be all about using this whole web 2.0 thing to make Link Aggregation the way of the future and proved itself by quickly becoming one of the larger online communities

Pros

  • Community was responsible – Unlike Slashdot, Digg came along with this system which actually allowed the users to have some sway in what did and didn’t get up voted. This whole “Upvoting” system was a new idea [and a god awful simple one in retrospect]. It was key (I think) to Digg’s overall sucess.
  • Good Servers – One thing that I will say for Digg is that I don’t remember a time when those servers went down for extended periods of time. If there was server maintenance it was usually short and planned. I didn’t get slammed with messages every time I went to visit my profile letting me know that I was breaking an entire postGre database.
  • Light Hearted, Upbeat, Colorful design – Another thing that Digg had going for it was that it actually looked like a design team had put some thought into what was and was not going to work. The Light Green / Blue / Yellow that sprinkled the site didn’t leave me looking for the quickest trash can with which to scoop out my eyes.

Cons

  • Power Users – I’m looking at you Mr. BabyFace… One of the key issues with Digg was that it allowed you to have friends, and then it proceeded to tell you what those friends were up to. This actually turned out to be a massive flaw in the system as users early on exploited it to simply have their legions of friends bring stuff to the top page. It made for a less than user-friendly experience for those who didn’t have friends
  • SEO Scamming – With great power comes the amazing ability to make cash off of it. Though Mr. BabyFace and the likes never actually admitted to it, there were a lot of sites who purported the ability to manipulate the system withe ease.
  • The Comment System Still Suck – They took a note from Slashdot and tried to do a comment system that was a marginal improvement. But when I still need to add @so&so to convey who in the world I’m talking to, we probably have a problem. They went on to try to fix this with later revisions to the software, but in truth they never quite figured it out.

It's an AlienReddit – If you haven’t heard about the site yet, you might as well jump on the bandwagon. Reddit.com is all the rage when it comes to getting the news you want to hear, when you want to hear it. It has been notorius for staying a full day ahead of the rest of the link aggregates, and as such is the “Current place to be” with no challengers really showing up to take its place [that I know of at least].

Pros

  • Subreddits – Reddit’s key feature and the feature that I think sets it apart from all the rest. It took the whole categories thing that Digg had going on and takes it to a whole new level. A lot of people accuse Reddit of having one bias or another, and if I setup my subbreddits right… they’re correct. But, that’s the great thing, I can change those subreddits and see a completely different point of view.
  • KISS (keep it simple stupid)– Reddit takes a whole new view on trying to keep things as simple as possible. The site is build from the ground up with a brainless hack like myself in mind. The key here is that everything on reddit has an incredibly simple interface to it. If I want to register on Reddit, I put in my desired name, my password twice, and a captcha to make sure I’m not a bot and I’m done.
  • Open Moderation – I’m really talking about the Administrators here with regard to the idea that if something weird happens [like say a certain encryption key gets posted [1]] than the staff over at reddit usually tell the full story even if they are owned by Conde Nast [like a certain company that QQ’d all the way home [2]]. On top of this, moderation is handled by the users and if say a certain moderator ruins a weed community, they can just go start a new one [3].

Cons

  • A bit ugly – Bless the little alien, but the site is a bit… well old-fashioned is one way to put it. I think that a lot of users are turned off by the sort of bland look that Reddit has going on for itself. Now, a lot of people disagree with me on this point stating that Reddit’s simplicity comes from that ugly design. I’m sure baby blue, white, and gray do a good website make, but it’s always seemed almost /. in style
  • Comment quality based off one metric – One of the things that Reddit could really take away from Slashdot is realizing that people upvote things for different reasons, and there is no good way to separate the comments based off of that. If a comment is funny, it can have the same level of upvotes as a comment that explains exactly why the article being submitted is dead wrong.
  • Retiquette never enforced – There are rules in place, but no one actually bothers to read or follow them. Now one could argue this is down to the individual moderators of each community, but if’ we’re going to play that game than perhaps site administration [like moderators Jedberg] could have more say in trying to get people to follow the rules that were put in place.

haza it's like internet luck4chan – Now before anyone gets defensive and reminds me that 4chan is an imageboard, I think I would like to make my case for why they’re included on the list. Let’s face it, if you’re in the tech industry and involved on the internet you’ve heard of this site. But when you really put your nose to the grind stone, who is it that found dusty the cat? Who is it that made chocolate rain, rickrolling , and cats popular on the internet? The fact of the matter is that as much as they are content generators [despicable as that may be], they are also the ones who go out and find the most obscure things and bring them to light.

Pros

  • Anonymous Posting – There are a lot of things that you could say are negatives that come along with this, but in truth this is the quickest way for people to tell the truth. While moot may ultimately know the true identity of these people, they are simply a cloud of nameless individuals who are able to exchange ideas without out any fear of it being tracked to who they really are. That’s a very powerful tool for getting information out there.
  • No Holds Bar – Reddit has more recently been picking up in this regard, but 4chan has always been a home of “the forbidden” or “the taboo” serving as a shelter to discuss things that you would never dare discuss in public.
  • The best of the best – When it comes to those who actually browse the site, they are usually able to extract the most obscure information that I can even begin to think of. I’m not sure if this is simply a side effect of a million unemployed folks, but when it comes to finding rare or obscure things these internet detectives are like no other. It attracts people who don’t have to blow their cover or say who they are, part of that whole anonymous posting thing.

Cons

  • Child Porn -There’s really no disputing the fact that when you have the above factors, you are going to have some pretty intense side effects, one of those happens to be things that are generally HIGHLY ILLEGAL. As such, you essentially have 1 of 2 options, deal with it by bringing in more moderation, or just become known as that site that “sometimes post that kind of thing”.
  • No Accountability – 4chan is notorious for making it difficult to blame a single individual for what are often tragic events. In fact the only time in recent history I recall something negative happening to one of its users was the whole football stadium thing [3].
  • Profitless – Nobody wants to touch this site with a 10 foot pole. The issue is that 4chan is a notorious site with a strange user base and no company with money wants to get their company logo near it.

What to do?

So, the question than becomes how can you take all of these pros and cons and make them into a functional community? Can you take the components which make those communities unique and apply them to a single site? I think to some degree you can. Now, I’m not sure I’d go full anonymous as with 4chan, but the anonymous coward option that Slashdot offered would suffice for this goal. It would allow occasional bouts of users who want to express something but not relate it to themselves, in a manner that keeps things stable in terms of viewpoints.

I’ve often wondered what such a site would need to be programmed in, and I think the clear answer lies in something like Oracle and Python [or Ruby]. These would need to be scalable services which aren’t limited by dysfunctions in compilation and security already present in the language [looking at you PHP], or weak on the security front because of the operating system it would have to be saddled on [That’s you ASP.net]. Than you’d have to develop a sever infrastructure and a cache service that would be capable of achieving the goals that you are looking for [a cache service perhaps like Cassandra].

Than you’re going to want to hire a web designer with a bit of talent to layout the core of the website, trying to make sure they incorporate simplicity from the beginning. From there,  you take those Pro’s I mentioned above and you start to design a system around it.

Just some thoughts

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