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[ba-unrev-talk] NYTimes.com Article: Site for the Truly Geeky Makes a Few Bucks

This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by garyrichmond@rcn.com.    (01)

New York Times on Slashdot    (02)

garyrichmond@rcn.com    (03)

Site for the Truly Geeky Makes a Few Bucks    (04)

October 14, 2002

The front door to the office of Slashdot bears a nerdy
little joke. A computer key is glued to the door: "Enter."
The other side of the door has an old "Return" key.     (06)

That's the geeky essence of Slashdot.org, an online
publication with a fanatical community of millions of
readers that combines a rich view of technology with quick,
off-kilter wit.     (07)

Could it be that this is the 21st-century model for
Internet publishing?     (08)

The highest-flying print publications of the dot-com bubble
burbled about technology and the businesses that it
fertilized. But now they and their glossy paper have fallen
to earth. Just last week, Forbes ASAP and Upside joined the
once-fat Industry Standard in the glossies' graveyard.
"There is no market for a dedicated new-economy
publication," said Monie Begley, a spokeswoman for Forbes.     (09)

But far away from the buzz and the glamour, Slashdot
survives and thrives. Run out of a basement office in a
suburb of Ann Arbor, Mich., Slashdot has remained true to
the slogan: "News for nerds. Stuff that matters."     (010)

The secret to the online publication's moderate success?
"They didn't buy a Super Bowl ad," joked Sean Bergeron, a
fan from Virginia.     (011)

It's a little more complicated than that, but not much. The
company keeps its expenses low. Its creators write about
what interests them. And - here's where the business model
may not be everyone's cup of Bawls Guarana energy drink -
they don't seem to care if the operation actually makes any
money.     (012)

Publishing without paper is cheap and cheap is good, said
Richard Seltzer, an Internet entrepreneur and author of
"Web Business Boot Camp: Hands-on Internet Lessons for
Managers, Entrepreneurs and Professionals" (Wiley, 2002).
He said online publications like Slashdot could flourish
"in a down market, and especially when the market for
online advertising is in disastrous shape."     (013)

Slashdot persists as a must-read publication for the
wizardly set, and especially those within the community of
developers and fans of "open source" software like Linux,
which is created and improved by legions of volunteers. The
Web site provides the technically inclined a place to keep
up with news, submit articles on their own, and discuss it
all at length that can make a neophyte's head throb. The
25-year-old creators of the site, Rob Malda and Jeff Bates,
estimate that in their five years online they have
published 30,000 articles, served 500 million pages and
amassed an audience estimated at 2 million people -
including some 50,000 who regularly enter the continuing
conversation at least once a month.     (014)

"Slashdot is the best site in the world for techies that
want to know," said Daniel Hedblom, a reader in Sweden.     (015)

The site's editors look for news and interesting sites, and
cull hundreds of daily free submissions from readers and
then edit and post a dozen or so articles each day. Those
pieces are short, rarely more than 200 words, and offer
links to other Web sites or news reports. The discussions
then can go on for hundreds and even thousands of postings
by readers, offering comment, argument and further
research. Those who want to post without using their names
are allowed to, but the system automatically gives them the
user name "anonymous coward."     (016)

And, of course, there is the goofy stuff. Along with arcane
discussions of software technology and licensing schemes,
the editors post gleeful critiques of Microsoft and its
wares, and approving commentary on pop/nerd culture,
including Natalie Portman, Aibo robot dogs, Lego projects
and fun science projects.     (017)

The creators also let pictures substitute for a thousand
words. Small icons are attached to each item, including a
much-used image of Bill Gates made up to look like a Star
Trek Borg - a race of half-man, half-machine beings that
spreads across the universe and whose members drone:
"Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated." It conveys
everything that the geekerati think about the software
mogul Mr. Gates.     (018)

"They have this fun combination of total geek cred and a
good editor's eye for the weird and interesting and
compelling," said Michael Hirschorn, senior vice president
of news and production at the cable channel VH1, and
co-founder of the late Inside.com, which was an online
report on the world of media.     (019)

Mr. Hirschorn applauded Slashdot's "very smart balancing
act," which he characterized as "appealing in a very
intimate, direct way with its core audience and figuring
out a way to branch out into other topics, like
intellectual property, that would appeal to a broader
audience."     (020)

He suggested, however, that any comparison between large
business efforts like his Inside site and Slashdot were
misleading. Slashdot's creators don't really "measure
themselves as a business. They can meaure themselves as a
cause," he said. "The fact that it's turned out to be a
modest business is a happy surprise."     (021)

Does Slashdot, in fact, make money? Its owners say, yes,
sort of. The site is owned by Open Source Development
Network Inc., a subsidiary of the VA Software Corporation.
Open Source runs a number of technology-related Web sites
and an online store, ThinkGeek.     (022)

Richard French, senior vice president and general manager
for Open Source, declined to break out the income of any
one component of the company, except to say, "Slashdot
works from a cost point of view and from a revenue
perspective."     (023)

In fact, he acknowledged, "If you took any one of them on
their own, probably none of them would be profitable," he
said of Open Source's various Web sites.     (024)

But because many of the sites use the same hardy,
low-maintenance software developed by Mr. Malda and his
team, and because the Internet resources are pooled, the
company says it is able to squeeze out a profit from the
cluster, and makes further profits from sites that it sets
up for businesses.     (025)

The sites have a combined audience of some six million
people, Mr. French said, and a sizable number of those
visitors go to ThinkGeek. The store offers a range of goods
that techies love, including T-shirts with the logos of
Slashdot and other affiliated sites, like Freshmeat and
SourceForge, as well as shirts and caps that bear
representations of the chemical structure of caffeine;
caffeine-spiked candies; and even caffeine-saturated soap.     (026)

"Apparently, our readers need caffeinated soap," Mr. Malda
said.     (027)

The arrangement works, Mr. French said, because the
corporate owners do not interfere in the editorial
decisions of the Slashdotters. "I don't go down and say,
`Rob I want you to write about this,' " he said. "Rob
understands his community."     (028)

Mr. Malda added: "I still think of it as my personal
soapbox. If I decide next Thursday that `It's all about
Windows!' I don't know if Slashdot would follow that - but
I would keep posting it and posting it until they fire me."    (029)

Mr. Malda and Mr. Bates met in high school in Holland,
Mich., and went on to attend the local Hope College, where
Mr. Malda created the site. He was soon joined in the
effort by Mr. Bates, the way that kids in the old Judy
Garland-Mickey Rooney movies put on a show with friends.
They were stunned by the site's popularity, and even more
stunned when it actually made money.     (030)

They once had visions of dot-com wealth of their own, and
had immense paper profits when their site was bought in
1999 by the Open Source Development Network, then known as
Andover.net. Open Source was then sold the next year to VA
Linux (which later changed its name to VA Software). The
2000 transaction was, for a heady moment, valued at $975
million. That's when the company's stock was worth nearly
$250 a share. These days, VA Software's stock trades for
around 75 cents a share.     (031)

Mr. Bates said his stock did not make him rich, but he was
able to sell some shares.     (032)

"Not as many as I would have liked," he said, "but that's
the nature of lockup" - the clauses that restrict a
corporate insider's ability to sell newly acquired stock.
"At the end of the day, I was able to buy a house, and hey,
I'm not going to complain about that."     (033)

Fans of the site are ready, even impatient, for more.     (034)

of the messages posted to the discussion of passing the
five-year mark last month was a simple three words: "O.K.,
now what?"     (035)

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/14/technology/14SLAS.html?ex=1035610903&ei=1&en=dc1ccfb8cf3d8a57    (036)

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