November 1, 2004

The "Slashdot Weenie" Effect

If you are a geek, you have probably heard of Slashdot.

Slashdot is primarily visited by three classifications of people. (Forgive the generalizations.)

The first are knowledgable tech support and programmer types who want to keep abreast of the latest news that affects their industry. You can tell which people these are due to their straightforward and measured speech, stories of real-world experiences, and the fact that their spelling and grammar are usually at or above a 6th-grade level.

The second are the religious zealots who believe that Stallman is God, source yearns to be free, a few Berkeley hippies designed the epitome of computer nirvana about thirty years ago, and that Torvalds is the Second Coming of Christ (or the first coming for the Jewish zealots.) You can usually tell which ones these are through their constant bickering about which text editor is better, how they've built a Beowulf cluster of EPIA motherboards in their mother's basement, their belief that "rm -r *" is the most user-friendly interface ever made, and their derision of any anti-Linux/*BSD article as "FUD."

The third are the sheep, those that will be led by the zealots to make their point, even if a few IP addresses are lost in the process. If you read more than three misspellings of common words, three grammar mistakes or the oh-so-intelligent "M$" in their post, you've got a sheep. These are the script kiddies, the "l33t haX0r d00dz," the unwashed masses waiting to get a clue.
I bring this up because I've found the biggest problem with Slashdot is what I'm going to call the "Slashdot Weenie" effect: an issue only matters as long as it is on the front page. The moment that the issue is not on the front page, the zealots cannot drive the sheep with any sort of urgency.

To further expand on this, let me tell you about what I did. On Tuesday of last week, I posted a reply to a post about Firefox's goal to get 10% of the browser market. I posted the a URL and the browser stats for that URL.

During the next day, we received over 300 visitors linked from Slashdot, trying to skew our browser stats towards Firefox or Opera or Konquerer or Lynx or whatever alternative browser was out there. (Firefox never did make 10%.) Which means that for this post, about 300 people who read the comments decided to follow the link, either to find out what the site was, or to skew the results. Regardless, that was it.

However, a funny thing happened the moment that the story went off of the front page. Our referrals from Slashdot ceased. We did not get a single referral at all from Wednesday noon to today. Even a follow-up post on the same thread did not result in extra referrals.

When we compare our browser stats prior to Slashdot and our browser stats from after the post left the front page, the stats are within 0.1% for each browser. Nothing changed.

So, let's say that you're an IT decision maker, and someone in your company talks to you about switching to Linux. How can you find out which category you're dealing with? Here's a few simple tests.

1) Tell them that a recent consultant recommended redoing the website using C# and ASP.NET.

If the person says something like, "That's okay. We can use a Mono stack to run the code just as easily without platform lockin," they're probably knowledgable.

If the person says something like, "Well, PHP is more secure and integrates more easily with Apache," they're a zealot.

If the person says something like, "C# is just Microsoft stealing Java, Bill Gates suXX0rs," they're a sheep.

2) Tell them that unless the VP's computer can run "Links 2000" flawlessly, he won't get behind the decision.

If the person says something like, "Well, we can install VMWare/Linux...," or "Well, we can install this stuff from Transgaming," etc., they're knowledgable.

If the person says something like, "Has he ever tried 'Tux Racer'?," he's a zealot.

If the person says something like, "I used to like 'Links,' but then Micro$oft bought them," he's a sheep.

3) Tell them that you require the ability to use Microsoft Office.

If the person says something about Crossover Office or Lycorix, they're knowledgable.

If the person says something about, they're a zealot.

If the person says something about vi versus emacs, not only are they a sheep, but they should be shot where they stand.

By the way, please forgive me if I messed up one or more Linux product names. While I try to be knowledgable, I don't want to dedicate my grey matter to remembering the "Linux Flavor of the Minute."


Thomas Hawk said...

Hi Michael. Thanks for the funny post on the Slashdot experience. I've been published there and am familiar with the site. I do think though that I'd take a different interpretation of your experience there and posted a response to it over at:

Michael Russell said...

My reply to Thomas' reply: