Posts Tagged ‘Slashdot’

This morning, I booted my computer to learn than an article of mine had reached Slashdot. It wasn’t the first time, nor even twentieth. All the same, the news made me feel that the engines of the world had received a tune-up overnight, and were now purring along the way they were supposed to.

The first time an article of mine appeared on Slashdot, I was less restrained. Actually, I shouted, “Yes!” in the middle of the office and did a sincere but awkward tap dance down the aisles while I punched the sky and alternated between chortles and meaningless ecstatic sounds. Not bad, I thought, considering that four months earlier I hadn’t even heard of Slashdot, the portal site for geeks and nerds.

However, if my reaction this morning was more subdued, it was just as full of satisfaction. As a reader, I may express disdain for Slashdot’s audience, dismissing its members as immature, misogynistic, and possessed of an instinctive ability to miss the point in any given story. Yet each time Slashdot links to an article of mine, I feel the same heady mixture of satisfaction and vindication.

This reaction is only peripherally connected to the fact that I get a small bonus when Slashdot links to one of my articles. By the time I receive that bonus, at least three weeks will have passed, and the bonus is not so large that I can indulge in much anticipatory spending.

Nor is my ego triggered by the fact that a segment of the free software world will be chewing on my thoughts down to the bone like a school of piranhas. After all, I’ve no stranger to comments, and, although I make the point of reading most of what people say about my articles, familiarity has long ago bred indifference to all but the most quirky or thoughtful reactions.

Besides, by the time Slashdot picks up a story, I’ve usually moved on. Even if only a day or two has passed, I’m working on another story – which makes me wonder how actors and writers manage to promote work they did over a year ago on the talk show circuit. How, I wonder, do they keep up the pretense of caring? If they are anything like me, the works they’re talking about must feel as though they were written or performed by someone else.

Rather, my satisfaction comes from the sense of readership. Writing, as most people who’ve tried it will testify, is a solitary business. Mostly, I don’t mind that, since the alternative is to work in an office on projects that are far less interesting, but sometimes the isolation does get to me – not just socially (which is another story), but in the form of self-doubt. Is anyone reading my stuff? I start thinking. Frequently I have to go out and swim or cycle until I’m too tired to maintain the doubting..

However, when an article makes Slashdot, the question is answered with a resounding affirmative. For a day or two – maybe three or four, if the subject matter is especially controversial — at least a segment of the free software is riffing off my thoughts. For a few days more, the number of blogs about my thoughts increases.

I know, of course, that the interest is transitory. Unless you happen to be a George Orwell, day to day journalism is rarely remembered for its thought or style. I know, too, that if people weren’t discussing my articles, they’d be discussing someone else’s.

All the same, however briefly, the interest is there. It never fails to surprise, humble, and even frighten me. But it also justifies me for a moment. For a short time, I have managed to entertain – intellectually, I hope, for the most part but maybe with some humor and emotional appeal and usefulness occasionally thrown in as well. That’s why appearing on Slashdot is better than any award could ever be (not that I’d accept a nomination in the unlikely event that I was put up for one). It’s proof that something I wrote has interested someone other than me — and almost as satisfying the latest time as the first.

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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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