Slashdotters are lame

Slashdot Sucks

Slashdot is lame

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Disclaimer: This is my own opinion and does not represent a statistically significant sample of user experiences. Slashdot receives a high level of Internet traffic.

Slashdot is an online forum that offers technology news fragments and allows people to comment on news items. Their tagline is "News for Nerds. Stuff That Matters." It is a very popular geek site and would proudly claim to be anti-Microsoft, pro-Linux, and pro-open source.

News for Nerds. Stuff That Matters. NOT!

It's not news, it's not written by journalists and it's not stuff that matters. The only true part about their tagline is that it's for nerds. Stupid ones. Ones who are probably wearing some lame t-shirt from ThinkGeek with a stupid expression like "All your haXoRz are belong to us."

This thread about the 2.4.18 kernel release is a typical Slashdot news item. Idiocy, misinformation, testosterone-poisoned posturing, technology punditry, arrogance, bad logic: just another day in Slashdot-land.

The classic exchange is one Slashdotter complaining about ACs (people posting as Anonymous Cowards, i.e., not registered) and another Slashdotter blasting him for being so stupid and then outlining the steps need to get a for-all-intents-and-purposes anonymous Hotmail account and registering on Slashdot with a bogus name.

Lame personalities

Some of the Slashdot people have personality cults which is weird because they are incredibly lame. Every single poll seems to have a reference to a character named CowboyNeal. One of the founders/editors, Rob Malda, goes by the handle CmdrTaco, and his posts are incredibly shallow and stupid (although admittedly not much more than those of the other editors).

Every Slashdot-hater will claim to have a particularly dark place in their hearts for a certain individual, but frankly, they're all about the same. I ran into them in the Linux pavilion of Comdex a couple of years ago and they're a truly sorry bunch of humans. Just more proof that if you had the choice to be smart or lucky, you're much better off being lucky.

The problem with online forums: Why Slashdot isn't different than the rest

Admittedly, Slashdot's lameness isn't unique. As a matter of fact, it's normal. The main problem with online communities is that they do not scale well. While engineers argue about whether or not MySQL-backed sites can handle significant traffic, etc., they are really missing the point. Even if the software can handle it, the community can't.

Throwing more hardware at it doesn't help the problem. Nor does throwing more software. Nor does throwing more moderation. Nor does adding big warning messages to "please search the archives before posting a question." People get tired of hearing the same old questions over and over. What was once a place where new and innovative discussions sprang up every day is now a place where the same ten questions get asked over and over. Many of the most valuable contributors are the first to leave, just like talented employees bailing out of a foundering corporation.

The only hope is to pick a topic that is so esoteric that growth is extremely limited. Splitting up a community into sub-communities is also a possibility, but one that doesn't always work. If done too late, the majority of the most valuable contributors will have already left. Splitting a big blob of noise will result in many little blobs of noise. If done too early, there might not be sufficient energy/critical mass to nurture the newly-founded subcommunities.

What makes FC different?

The, uh, community citizens at contribute about the same quality of knowledge as your average forum participant, but unlike Slashdotters, A.) they aren't as arrogant, B.) they all seem to realize where they're posting (i.e., after all, the website is called, and C.) Pud (the founder/editor) knows he's a lucky idiot.

The very worst part about online forums

For the newcomer, a vibrant, high-traffic online forum seems like the El Dorado of information. It's not. It's a Pandora's Box, but even worse. The biggest single problem about online forums is the amount of incorrect information being provided. For the average newbie, there is absolutely no way to tell who is telling the truth. Veteran status doesn't count, nor does his/her post count (i.e., someone with 3000+ posts isn't any more credible than someone with 150 posts).

Many online forums have an "Off Topic" posting area so specific forums don't get watered down with unrelated issues. These places are very, very dangerous. These are places where opinions are offered, often backed by little/bad/no facts. While it's one things to ask people in a photography forum about cameras, it's another thing to ask a bunch of DVD aficionados about income tax law.

The saddest thing is that people apparently believe that soliciting the thoughts of total strangers on serious topics such as personal bankruptcy, medical procedure issues, dealing with troubled children, etc. is normal on these relatively anonymous online forums.

Can you do anything about misinformation?

No, not really. For every one or two people with actual knowledge, there are dozens of people with no/little/bad knowledge.

If you refute someone, you will get a dozen people saying, "but I do _____ and it works for me" or the indignant "leave _____ alone, his answer is just as good as the next person's!" It's pointless to argue online. Unlike real life, everyone's opinion counts online. People will hear what they want to hear, and mostly it's their own voice (or other people telling them that they agree).

Me, me, me!

This thread about good web design (again, a non-newsworthy item) is pretty much the perfect example of the "My voice is just as loud and therefore just as authoritative as anyone else's" train of thought.

Go ahead, read the comments. An abnormally large number of them are actually thoughtfully written, only to be lost in the maelstrom of "Listen to me!! Listen to me!!" Sad, truly sad.

Alternatives to online forums

If you're looking for knowledge, the best source is books (you know, those things made of paper). For a richer experience, you can combine books with a real-life group of people interested in the same topic (e.g., evening adult education clases in Italian Renaissance architecture at the local community college).

If you're committed to using online resources, the only really worthwhile resources are some judicious and carefully screened Google searches and private e-mail lists. The private e-mail lists must be invitation-only and must have policies to kick out members who start spewing falsehoods.

Summary and References

There you go. Online forums suck. The only way to avoid lameness is to take the elitist, private e-mail list route (i.e., the technologist's country club, in a manner of speaking) or to use the Internet for quick, basic searches for discrete bits of information and to do extensive, in-depth research offline.

If you're done, maybe you'd like to read about some ISPs who suck now.

Last modified on Wed Jan 1 17:53:34 GMT 2003
Copyright © 2002-2003 Tara Hertz.
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Slashdot sucks