Timothy Lee over at the Washington Post’s blog The Switch has an interview with Rob Malda, founder and longtime head of the news-for-nerds site Slashdot.
Malda spoke with Lee about the site’s history, lessons learned and predictions for the future of social news.
Malda ran Slashdot from 1997 — when he was connecting to readers via mailing lists and IRC — until 2011. He has since joined WaPo Labs (owned by the Post’s parent company but not Jeff Bezos) and is developing a Facebook-based news aggregator called Trove.
Malda tells Lee his site’s initial growth was just a natural product of his participation in open source groups and chats. Slashdot’s first readers were the people he was already talking with.
“The tech stuff was mine,” Malda says. “It was mine.”
He says that it many ways Hacker News is serving the functions Slashdot used to. But Malda warns that site is approaching a too-big stage — he compared it to Reddit — where users have to dig for good content because fluff has risen to the front pages.
Distillation and curation of all that content would be useful, he suggests.
Malda says the tough thing about growth is that a site needs to start with a critical mass of content, which is not so easy with a small core audience. If done properly, though, this core group and its interests will grow and help drive or populate the site.
Dilution eventually kicks in as mainstream and late adopters start to take the platform over from the core user base (Bitcoin folks are nodding their heads).
So the platform needs to be nimble enough that a user can easily access content that his relevant to him or her, Malda says.
Imposing content limits helps solve that problem of dilution to some extent, and he contrasted that with Twitter, which he says has tons of useful information that gets drowned in “pictures of what people ate.”
Malda says his current tech interests now include Bitcoin and the technology behind the NSA and Chelsea Manning leaks.
Finally, Malda explored the hacker mentality that drove much of Slashdot’s original core audience — and one that has been seen in much of Bitcoin’s core.
He described it as “the hacker ethos, the hacker spirit is the natural desire to tinker, take apart and take control. Anything that hampers that becomes the enemy.”
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