Slashdot Founder Talks About Why He Left, If He’d Return And The ‘First!’ Problem

Slashdot Founder Talks About Why He Left, If He’d Return And The ‘First!’ Problem

Back in 1997, Rob “Commander Taco” Malda founded a blog called Chips & Dips. That blog exists today as one of the largest social news sites around, and it’s called Slashdot. Malda recently opened up about his time at Slashdot, revealing to Reddit that towards the end of his time working for GeekNet, Inc he became sad and disillusioned with the site he founded all those years ago.

Answering questions in a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread yesterday, Malda revealed that he spiralled into a dark place towards the end of his time with Slashdot and its then-parent company Geeknet, Inc.

I had to leave. It hurt more the I could ever explain. It ripped my guts to do it. But I wasn’t happy anymore. I no longer could see a future for the site I wanted to run. And it was eating me up inside. Eventually it ate right through and spilled back out.

My friends knew it. My wife knew it. I’m glad I left before my kids knew it too. I know that not everyone gets to work in a job they love…but nobody should work in a job that actually makes them emotionally hurt. And by the end, that was where I was. I was never able to separate “Slashdot” from “Rob”. Quitting was the only way.

I grew increasingly cynical and unhappy. And finally I wasn’t able to hide it anymore. It was time.

Malda said that he could have stayed working at Slashdot, but it didn’t feel like the site he started anymore.

The site sold to Geeknet, Inc in 1999 for $US8.5 million in cash and stock, but even then, Malda said that quitting was harder than selling the site.

Quitting was harder than selling it. I really hoped that I could work there forever. The sale of the site was really structured to make that possible. But 14 years changed me, GeekNet, and Slashdot in unexpected ways.

Slashdot has since gone on to become one of the biggest news aggregators on the internet, but Malda said that he’d only want back in if he was offered the whole site for $1.

“If GeekNet offered to sell it to me for $1, I’d consider it…but I imagine they thing it is worth far more,” he told Redditors, who constantly remarked on the AMA that the site really wasn’t what it used to be when Commander Taco was running the show.

Malda said that one of the things that plagued early Slashdot was the limited resources the team had to run it on. Malda said that the whole site could probably be run out of the Amazon cloud these days, but one of the problems that had to be dealt with was the “First!” problem. You know the ones: internet douchebags who think people give two shits that they were there first on the comment thread.

Malda said that so many people tried to be first that it clogged the servers and slowed down the whole site. Here’s how he solved it:

‘First Post’ was actually really irritating to me, because there would be a dozen or more of them on many articles. This made the REAL discussion a significant hunk of scroll away to read.
A number of users wrote bots designed to get the First Post, which created a lot of unnecessary load on our servers in an era when we were pretty starved for resources.

We solved that for a few years by writing a script that posted an automatic ‘First Post’ to stories before readers actually saw it. And then a few minutes later, we would remove the robot created post.

This worked for a while, but then readers started noticing comments were disappearing, and the system was explicitly designed to never delete a comment… but by then the ‘First Post’ game had died down, and the moderation system became highly effective at sending them down to Score:-1 almost immediately.

How do you like them apples, firsties! [Reddit]

Image: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0