Government // Enterprise Architecture
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11/9/2007
01:39 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Cmdr Taco: At 10-Years Old, Slashdot Continues To Play A Role

It's been 10 years since Slashdot emerged from Rob Malda's personal Chips & Dip site. Also known by his Slashdot signature, Cmdr Taco, Malda was a student at Hope College on Lake Macatawa in Michigan, an institution of The Reformed Church In America, at the time. The setting sounds a little like the Prairie Home Companion's Lake WoeBeGone. The result was an enduring fixture of the open source community.

It's been 10 years since Slashdot emerged from Rob Malda's personal Chips & Dip site. Also known by his Slashdot signature, Cmdr Taco, Malda was a student at Hope College on Lake Macatawa in Michigan, an institution of The Reformed Church In America, at the time. The setting sounds a little like the Prairie Home Companion's Lake WoeBeGone. The result was an enduring fixture of the open source community.Malda had an interest in developments outside the computer department at the college and started posting newsy items to his personal site on early pieces of open source code, such as Linux, little known at the time.

It was important that such a site emerge. With computers in the hands of thousands of people who could contribute code but didn't know how to link up with other like minded souls, Slashdot emerged as a focal point of comment, opinion, and practical feedback on open source proposals.

Malda acknowledges he doesn't post as many stories and comments as he used to. "For the first 10 months, I was the only person posting. Now I post 20 stories a week out of the 150 to 180 that make it onto the site," he noted in an interview. He tends to show up on the site now on Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays, and five co-staffers at Slashdot fill in on other days. But he doesn't back off assuming lead responsibility. "The site has a certain personality in story selection. That comes directly from me."

Slashdot illustrated how a certain segment of the population was committed to the new concepts around open source, including the belief that recent scientific and artistic expression owes much to predecessor works and the belief it's important to share such works throughout a community. The concepts weren't really new. They've been a part of Western culture since the Age of Enlightenment, but it was new that they were being applied to computer software.

Various analyses have described the audience attracted to Slashdot, but Malda has little patience with the presumed CEO and CIO onlookers trying to absorb the tenets of open source culture. "I think we're a bunch of nerds. We have a lot of them," he says. Then he adds, "They're smart and very savvy in certain areas."

To me, one of those areas has been the open source's community's ability to detect self-interest amongst a multitude of commenters, reviewers, and participants in open source projects. The code is the thing, and what's not best for the long-term health of the code doesn't get past the open source community's detector of false pretenses and bad ideas.

I talked to Malda on the day that news broke that a subsidiary of Acacia Research in Texas had filed suit against Novell and Red Hat for infringing user interface patents. The suit had been so much anticipated that it hadn't resulted in any huge spike in activity on Slashdot, he said.

Malda has seen interest in open source expand beyond its immediate hard core developers, but he's hoping to keep a focus on fundamentals.

When he got his hands on a computer at Hope College and was allowed to connect it to the network, he started posting information that he himself as a budding programmer was interested in. His site promised to "tell you in byte-size form what is happening in the technology space."

"That's why Slashdot took off the way it did," he says and he plans to keep doing that.

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