Doc Searls interviews CmdrTaco and Scoop at the Linux World Expo.

Can Slashmeat Be Far Behind?


by Doc Searls <>

Three big things happened this week during Linux World Expo in San Jose: 1) Red Hat went public, ballooning from zero to billions in market capitalization; 2) The moon eclipsed the sun for the last time this millennium; and 3) bought Freshmeat, which immediately joined Slashdot in a single nerd rookery at the near corner of the .org pavilion. Slashdot, as you probably know, was auspiciously acquired by in late June.

It was in this "booth," where a geek-to-geek Nerf war was being fought amidst inflatable furniture, Ethernet cables and empty pizza boxes, that I sat down with Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda and Patrick "Scoop" Lenz to talk about the elevated prospects for their recently acquired properties. Here is the best I could do with the noisy audiotape that recorded the event —

Doc Searls: What are your growth plans ... now that you have the means?

Rob Malda: Right now I want to stay ahead of the hardware curve. We're right at the edge of what we can handle. We'll move the servers from the West Coast to the East Coast. Stuff like that. Then to hire a few people. Slashdot has always been kind of defined by my personality, and the things I'm interested in. Linux stuff. Geek stuff. And Jeff's personality: science stuff. You see an article on nanotech? Jeff posted it. You see one on Linux? That's me. Well, there are a lot of other areas we'd both like to cover, but we don't feel qualified to cover them. Like BSD. A lot of things are happening there, but I'm not qualified. So we'll get a BSD guy.

Doc Searls: You'll recruit from your own constituency?

Rob Malda: Yeah, to some extent. I've been e-mailing around. We haven't found one yet. But we've found guys to do other sections. Privacy. Crypto. Take a new guy used to work at the NSA. So he'll post to or something — and every once in a while I'll post one of those to the home page too.

Doc Searls: Kind of like Amazon, with tabs for each section.

Rob Malda: Amazon is a bad because ... Books? Great. Toys? What the hell?

Doc Searls: And you're two clicks farther away from the books you came for.

Rob Malda: Right.

Doc Searls: How do you maintain your identity and grow? How do you divisionalize the subordinate identities? Do you register other domain names and go there? Or are the divisions all to the right of the slash?

Rob Malda: Somewhere in the middle. We've registered a few domain names and they're all stupid. Number one, it'll be user-definable. If you're really into crypto and want crypto on your home page, you just go in there and click the right boxes and all the crypto stuff will fill in, regardless of whether or not it's supposed to be in that section. So it'll self-sort like it does now, only better, and across more subjects. It'll be fairly horizontal. These pages are going to be self-contained. And we're not going to push them farther away. It would be stupid to change Slashdot. Everything we'll do will be expansion of what Slashdot already covers. Lego stuff? Cool as hell. Barbie page? No way. If we don't like it, we won't put it on the page. Just like now.

Doc Searls: Why Andover?

Rob Malda: First, because they're not really a Linux Company. And they're willing to let us be. If, say, Linux World bought us, people would say "they're running a Linux World story because Linux World owns them." I think I've linked two Andover stories in all of Slashdot, and one was where they ripped one of our articles. What matters is they have no interest in Slashdot as a mechanism to publish their own stuff. They have an interest in Slashdot because the banner ads have a lot of muscle. It's all upside, no downside. We talked to a lot of guys who are in this building (the convention center) that we couldn't sell to because they had something to gain from owning Slashdot. We're totally cool with letting Andover sell banner ads. That's great. But they won't come to us and say "why don't you run a story about... that?" So there were two issues.: perception and reality. There was no perception problem because nobody knows or cares who Andover is. And there was no reality problem because they had the resources we needed, plus the willingness to let us do things our way.

Doc Searls: So you talked to other people too?

Rob Malda: We did the mating dance. We got the bids from all the big players. Media companies. Linux companies. It was just not cool. So we were pretty pleased when they came along. It didn't take long. I talked to the sysadmin there and he told us that he told the high-ups there that they can't mess with Slashdot without destroying it. And they totally got it. That's why we did it.

Doc Searls: You ever thought about leaving Michigan?

Rob Malda: I love Silicon Valley. I love being out on the West Coast. It's so expensive, though. I can't even deal with that. I'm Dutch. I'm a cheapskate. Where I live is cheap. The cost of living is nothing. I can get a big nice house, get a few acres, some trees, and nobody will bother me. But it'll be tough to get bandwidth. Out here I can throw a stone and get an ADSL line. But a couple of acres out here? It's a bitch. But it's nice. So I'll make it a habit to come out and hang. But I won't be staying.

Doc Searls: How big can Slashdot get?

Rob Malda: We've got market saturation at this point. Everybody in this room probably reads Slashdot. Or at least all the ones who are geeky. The non-suity people. The English speakers. As Linux grows, we'll grow with it. That's nice.

Doc Searls: Competition?

Rob Malda: There are other geek sites that come along all the time. Some do it well. Others say "I'm gonna take on Slashdot." But they don't realize that I've worked 80 hours a week for two years to get where I am. It took a long time and a lot of work.

Doc Searls: Who do you like best?

Rob Malda: The one I like best is Linux Today. I am blown away by them. They post everything. They do a great job. I have a lot of respect for that. I link 'em all the time. They are one of the best sites.

At this point Rob took shot in the face with a Nerf bullet...

Rob Malda: (Sarcastically, to the shooter...) Aim for my eye, why don't ya! All I've got is my looks! Take one of my eyes and what do I have?

... and I scurried over, below the hail of nerf bullets, to Patrick Lenz's inflatable couch.

Doc Searls: I'll ask you the same Andover question I asked Rob. You been talking to these guys for long?

Patrick Lenz: We've been negotiating with the same people for more or less the same period of time.

Doc Searls: And you like them for the same reasons?

Patrick Lenz: You have to make sure people give you editorial and creative control. Few people we talked to guaranteed that. Andover was the best candidate right from the very beginning. Slashdot went first, but we're very close with those guys, so it only made sense that we would follow.

Doc Searls: Are you tempted to come over here more? To the States?

Patrick Lenz: I have to do civil service.

Doc Searls: Because you're still young, I guess. You should arrange to be older.

Patrick Lenz: I tried to but it didn't work. So I have to do the civil service for at least a year. I have the alternative to do civil service or the army.

Doc Searls: What's the next stage for Freshmeat?

Patrick Lenz: Adding new capabilities. Say if people are looking for stable releases, we can get them straight to those. Branches of programs. Lots of filtering. Narrowing your searches. Narrowing the content you see. The lounge features are going to expand. Lots of items on the to-do list will be implemented. Such as an application monitoring service, so if somebody wants to subscribe to one application, they can. We'll try to work closely with Debian, for example -- to make sure packages that are in Debian are included in freshmeat and the other way round.

Doc Searls: Will you add people?

Patrick Lenz: There are eight people currently. There will be more. Most of them will start their own new section of freshmeat. The content for these sections is not public yet

At this point the geek traffic got too thick, and I took my leave.

— DS

Copyright © 1999 Specialized Systems Consultants, Inc.