Blog analysis: Slashdot

On: September 30, 2007
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About Carolien van der Vorst


Slashdot is regarded as a highly innovative website. It has been very popular for many years and is currently holding the 33rd position in Technorati’s top 100 of popular blogs. The site has been around since 1997 and is regarded as one of the first blogs, before there even was such a thing as a blog. Slashdot is a newssite for nerds. The extended title pretty much says it all: “News for nerds. Stuff that matters.” Slashdot is widely known for the so called Slashdot-effect. As written in Wikipedia:

“The Slashdot effect is the term given to the phenomenon of a popular website linking to a smaller site, causing the smaller site to slow down or even temporarily close due to the increased traffic. The name stems from the huge influx of web traffic that results from the technology news site Slashdot linking to underpowered websites.”[1]

Slashdot is also famous for its moderation system. The system is quite complex. I would like to expand on it a little.

Creator of Slashdot Rob “CmdrTaco” Malda:

“In the beginning, Slashdot was small. We got dozens of posts each day, and it was good. The signal was high, the noise was low. Moderation was unnecessary because we were nobody.”[2]

After a while however, the number of visitors, and with that the number of comments, expanded rapidly. Some comments were great, some were not. Some sort of moderation system became necessary to make sure the good comments weren’t lost in a sea of average or bad comments. The goals of Slashdot:

* promote quality, discourage crap.
* make Slashdot as readable as possible for as many people as possible.
* do not require a huge amount of time from any single moderator.
* do not allow a single moderator a “reign of terror.”[3]

A growing number of handpicked moderators were appointed who were able to rate the comments. Starting with 25, eventually growing out to about 400 moderators. However, like in so many cases, power corrupts. The same for moderationpower. Another system had to be developed to allow articles a fair chance and to be moderated more independently and effectively.

Karma and moderation
Nathaniel Poor writes in his essay ‘Mechanisms of an Online Public Sphere: The Website Slashdot’: ‘Over time, moderation evolved to the point where “any regular Slashdot reader is probably eligible to become a moderator” (cm520). Malda appeared very aware of issues of control and access. The control had to be moved away from the managerial end and towards the user end by creating the moderation system. But, there also needed to be a balance, as Malda realized. “I learned that I needed to limit the power of each person.” (cm520).[4]

In order to reach the above mentioned goals, karma was introduced. Karma is the sum of your activity on Slashdot[5]. If comments of a particular user are generally seen as good, his or her karma will increase. The better the comments are rated, the more karma you build up.

Karma has 6 different levels: terrible, bad, neutral, positive, good, and excellent. To the dissappointment of many users, karma cannot get any better than ‘excellent’, “[…]this was done to keep people from running up insane karma scores, and then being immune from moderation.”[6]Users with good karma are elligible to be selected as moderators. Practically anyone subscribed to Slashdot can become a moderator once in a while. Depending on the contributions made. A moderator receives five points, which means they can rate five comments. This is to prevent moderators from having too much influence.

With so many people contributing, it will be nearly impossible for a single person to influence the end result in a too profound way. The end result will be a reflection of the opinion of many of the people participating on Slashdot.

As an extra back-up, even the moderators are being moderated. This is done through meta-moderation.

“Metamoderation began as an experiment to see if the primary moderation system was actually working. Now, it helps us to remove bad moderators from the [moderator] eligibility pool” (mm300).

Meta-moderation can influence karma. The end result is a self reinforcing system in which high quality articles and comments become the most visible on Slashdot. And hopefully trolls and spam sink to the background.


[1] Wikipedia: Slashdot effect. Retrieved 24 september 2007.
[2] Slashdot: FAQ. Retrieved 24 september 2007.
[3] Slashdot: FAQ. Retrieved 24 september 2007.
[4] Poor, N. (2005). Mechanisms of an online public sphere: The website Slashdot. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(2), article 4.
[5] Slashdot: FAQ. Retrieved 24 september 2007.
[6] Slashdot: FAQ. Retrieved 24 september 2007.


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