Archive for February 12th, 2008

Slashdot, the portal site that bills itself as “News for nerds. Stuff that matters” has a strong hold on technical people’s imaginations and ambitions. For this reason, I’m often asked how to get a story mentioned on the site. They assume that, because I sell most of my articles to Linux.com, a web site that, like Slashdot, is run by SourceForge, that I have inside knowledge about how Slashdot’s inner workings. But the truth is, Linux.com and Slashdot are run so independently of each other that I have no idea how to interest the Slashdot staff. Nor do I have any better luck than anyone else at getting contributions accepted. That means that, when I do get a story on Slashdot, I’m as pleased as any outsider.

The first times I had stories on Slashdot, I wasn’t using my own name. Instead, I was ghosting, first for Stormix Technologies, and then for Ian Murdock at Progeny Linux Systems. Each time, I was pleased, but retained a sneaking suspicion that the link wasn’t so much anything that I had done so much as the interest that Stormix commanded as a new distribution and Ian as founder of Debian GNU/Linux.

For this reason, the first time I got on Slashdot under my own name was a heady experience. It was on March 2, 2005, with a review of OpenOffice.org 2.0. At the time, I was more than a little unsure how to react. I wrote ruefully in my journal that day:

My reaction is a little mixed. On the one hand, I like the increased visibility. On the other hand, when I see that several hundred comments have been posted, I feel that, should I ever be eaten by piranhas, then I’ll have a sense of deja vu.

Very little of my reaction has changed since. Like any writer, I like the idea of a larger audience for what I do Yet Slashdot is such a free-for-all that reading the comments can be a strain – not simply because some people disagree with me, but because I often get the feeling that people haven’t read the story at all and reacting as much to things in their mind as anything they can see on the screen.

Still, that doesn’t mean that I was displeased. As Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” I could pretend that I was simply glad that an important subject was becoming widely known, but, although that would be partly true, I would hypocritical if I tried to dodge the fact that much of my reaction was sheer ego.

Since then, I’ve had a trickle of articles on Slashdot. Usually, they are just enough to keep me going, while being just uncertain enough that the novelty never wears off. It doesn’t hurt, either, that I receive a small bonus whenever one of my Datamation stories hits Slashdot.

My best month for Slashdot was September 2006 – but through no virtue of my own. That was a period when Linux.com had an employee whose job was to submit likely stories to sites like Slashdot and Digg. Still, that run of luck made me feel that I had arrived as a journalist.

A week later, when I attended my first high school reunion, I felt like I didn’t have to take apologize for what I’d been doing with my time. I had proof of my success, even if few non-geeks understood exactly what it meant.

I’ve never equaled that tally, or come anywhere near it since. But I have seen links to my work on Slashdot on two successive New Years’ Eves – again, not because of anything I could boast about so much as the fact that the last days of the year are slow for news and I’m usually still laboring to meet my monthly quota then. Both times, I enjoyed a quiet moment of satisfaction.

Getting on Slashdot isn’t the only mark of success for someone who writes about free software. I’m pleased to get something on the front page of Digg, and, just this morning, my first article made Techdirt provoked a cry of triumph as I sat at my computer (much to the surprise of the parrot who was on my shoulder at the time). But, given Slashdot’s status in the sub-culture in which I work, I don’t suppose I’ll ever tire of this momentary mark of distinction – all the more so because, like everyone else, I’m never sure when it will arrive.

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