Web Site Delivers 'News for Nerds'

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Tens of thousands of Apple computer fans will be in San Francisco this week for the annual Macworld Conference and Expo. Comments have already been posted about Apple's new products on a popular Web site, Slashdot. David Kushner, who covers digital culture, reports on the origins of that site.


Tens of thousands of Apple computer fans will be in San Francisco this week for the annual Macworld Conference and Expo. Comments have already been posted about Apple's new products on a popular Web site.

David Kushner, who covers digital culture, has more on the origins of that site.

DAVID KUSHNER: Dexter, Michigan - population: 3,242 - isn't the sort of place you'd expect to be the center of geek culture. But inside an unmarked beige warehouse, in a dorm-like suite of "Star Wars" posters and programming books, you'll find a team of young guys choosing the tech news story that half-a-million geeks will read that day.

The Web site they run is called Slashdot.org. It's a name they deliberately chose to annoy anyone who types up the Web address. Launched long before blogs and news aggregators ruled the Internet, Slashdot has spent the past decade cherry-picking and linking to what the site bills as news for nerds. Those are the cool and crucial science and technology stories that founder Rob Malda and his crew of nine think you must know about; a massive cave found on Mars, artificial intelligence used to train firefighters.

The site has run more than 78,000 articles since it launched in 1997. And it has built one of the most feverishly loyal and influential communities online. Each day, it gets about 500,000 visitors who view some 2 million Web pages. Getting a link from the site - getting slashdotted - has a viral impact. Just ask anyone who's experienced the so-called Slashdot effect, which can sometimes be too much of a good thing.

Slashdot is the 800-pound gorilla of discussion sites. And a single mention there can generate enough traffic to overwhelm a small site servers, jamming it with attention. The Web site serves its geeky audience so well because Malda himself is one of them. It's people who like to write code and love technology, he says.

A 31-year-old with a pointy beard and glasses, Malda was a brainiac from the start. Growing up in a small town of Holland, Michigan, he started coding on his RadioShack TRS-80 computer in fourth grade and never looked back. He spent so much time writing computer games and surfing bulleting board networks that his mother once grounded him by locking his keyboard in the truck of her car.

The value of Slashdot in the age of online social networks like Facebook and Digg is a fact that techies, whether astrophysicist or toy designers, can count on Malda and his discerning squad to sift through the Web for the worthy nuggets. Every day, I want to tell my friends about the 15 things that matter most, says Malda. If we pull that off, then we're doing our job.

Considering that Slashdot has become the default bookmark for generation nerd, they're succeeding.

HANSEN: David Kuchner covers digital culture for Rolling Stone, Wired and other publications.

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