Pioneering nerd news site Slashdot turns 10

Started with Chips and Dips and popcorn before becoming the cyber-star that it is today

Developed as a logical step after aliens and popcorn, Slashdot, originally coined as a joke and hosted on a personal homepage, is 10 years old.

Slashdot, which has had the tag line 'News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters' was created in September 1997 by "CmdrTaco," otherwise known as Rob Malda,

The site is run primarily by Malda; Jeff "Hemos" Bates, who handles articles, book reviews and sells advertising; and Robin "Roblimo" Miller who helps with the managerial tasks of the site, as well as posting stories.

Slashdot, which now boasts over 5.5 million users a month, was originally called Chips and Dips. In this carnation it consisted of a number of random Linux related Web pages, themes for window managers and random bits of code Malda had written. It was read by a large number of people mostly from the IRC scene, says Malda, writing about slashdot's history.

Originally, it was hosted on Malda's personal homepage on the CompSci cluster of Hope College.

In 1996, Malda's friend Nate Oostendorp (who now works with SourceForge, the owner of the site) had coded a Space Invaders clone. He wrote a Java sprite library, and Malda wrote the game and illustrated the alien armada.

In the summer of 1997 Malda was contacted by a stranger who had an old DEC Alpha Multia 166, and wanted to remake the game with popcorn instead of aliens.

"So I drew the popcorn up, replaced the gifs, and he mailed me my first non x86 box since the 286 I got in middle school. Later Sun sent me legal threats forcing me to take the game offline since it was called Java Invaders, and clearly this was an evil crime against the universe. My hatred for Java has never died since that moment," writes Malda who immediately installed Red Hat on his box.

"I was working at an ad agency called The Image Group at the time as a webmaster. I coded whatever needed doing and handled various admin tasks to keep their clients happy. At the time they needed full control over email addresses on the domains they built. Since they shared their mailserver with their ISP, there were frequent name collisions -- if the client wanted bob@theirdomain.com but there already was a bob on the system, they couldn't do it. They agreed to let me move my little Alpha onto their network to host their email and I could use it to fart around with on my personal hobbies."

Malda then learned enough Perl "to write a stupid simple CMS to replace the functionality of Chips & Dips, which up until that point was just a text file. Dave DeMaagd wrote a simple comment system."

There were no user accounts -- you entered whatever name you wanted each time you posted a story. If you left it blank, it auto-filled the space with the name 'Anonymous Coward', a title that stuck and spread throughout the net.

Early in the piece Malda lost most of the original stories in the CMS during a data import. The files were named like 0000001.shtml and so forth and were all rendered at time of page request.

"Best of all, since the system was written as a CGI, the whole script needed to be compiled every time there was a page request. It was months before I ported the whole thing to use MySQL and mod_Perl," Malda writes.

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Dahna McConnachie

Computerworld
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