Interview: Rob Malda, Founder of Slashdot

Interview: Rob Malda, Founder of Slashdot
by Greg Tingle - 8th April 2003

What are the prime aims and objectives of Slashdot?

To spread as much lies and misinformation as humanely possible within the constraints of the modern technology known as The Internet.

How, when and why was Slashdot established?

Sept 97

What is the most important aspect of the website?

The words.

What kind of business activities do you guys do, that are not elaborated on the website?

Our business activities are essentially advertising and subscriptions.

How many visitors and impressions to you get per month?

Millions of visitors.  Probably like 50-60 million "Impressions"

What’s the biggest news story you ever covered, and how did it come about?

There really is no "Biggest".  We've covered everything from Mozilla to Columbine to various military actions.  My favourite story was the one where I proposed to my then-girlfriend-now-wife.  So obviously I think *that* was the biggest one.

Explain the highs and lows in the business?

Highs: When the Server is Up.  Lows: When the Server is NOT.

How do you delegate different tasks to your team?

Through email, IRC, and IM.

How many staff do you have?

2 Full-time writers.  3 Full-time programmers.  3 Part-time writers.

What’s the biggest issue you have ever had to deal with?

Traffic and Lawsuits.  Every few months there is either a new traffic explosion or a new threat of legal action.

Rob, what % of time and effort do you spend on running the business, as opposed to writing code, or FTPing upline?

I spend almost no time doing any of these things.  I manage code development and content creation.  OSDN handles business.  I have programmers writing the code.  And really, who FTPs anything any more?

When did you decide you would run a portal for your career, and in what year did you become profitable (answer if comfortable)

I still am not sure if I *have* decided to run a portal for my career, but so far it’s a good gig and I don't plan to quit.  I don't run the business, so you'll have to contact OSDN if you want information about profitability.

Do you have any mentors, and if so, who?

I'm not telling.

Have you ever "pissed off" another company or person to the extent that they sued you, and if so, what was the outcome?

To my knowledge, we have never been sued.  Many many many many threats.

How much notoriety has SlashDot given you, and are you famous (or at least well known in the US) Aussies (Australians) don't get all the news and gossip, and no, we don't all have Kangaroos and Aboriginals in the backyard

Hey, I've been to Sydney.  I love .au.  Slashdot only gives me notoriety when I go to tradeshows or conferences.  Once I was recognized in an electronics store.  Once in a movie theatre.  That’s it in 5 years.

What's the most impressive technology and code you are aware of, and what's on the horizon

I'm still waiting for my flying car, but for now I'd settle for a single handheld device that integrated a PDA, MP3 Player, Digital Camera, and Gameboy.

Have you met Bill Gates, and if so, what did you say, and if not, what would you tell him?

Never met him.  I'd probably just say 'Hi' and shake is hand.  I'm not the huge anti-Microsoft person that many think I might be.  I just don't like windows and think that they run their business in a very unfair way.  I'll stick to Linux and Macs.

How much time and effort, and money, have you put into the development of Slashdot?

Personally?  The last 5 and a half years of my life.  Plus however many man hours OSDN pays all our employees for.  A lot.  It costs a good chunk of change to run a website that’s serving 2.5 million pages on those busy days.

Explain your return on investment?

Well, I go to bed proud of what we do, and get up each morning and do it again.  That’s a kind of return of investment.  It's sure not the kind where me, Hemos, and CowboyNeal buy fighter jets and dogfight above the skies of Canada in solid gold airplanes.

Has your business plan changed much over the years, and have there been any elements that you dropped, which were not profitable or practical?

I've never really concerned myself with a business plan.  My goal is simply to run a website that I want to read.  No more, no less.  Since hundreds of thousands of other people seem to agree with my idea of what makes a good website, I just need to keep doing it, and hopefully

OSDN can make enough bucks to keep it running.

How many supporters do you have, and who is the most "powerful"?

I have no idea what you're getting at here.

What's the biggest compliment you have been given?

I always appreciate being told we don't suck.

What is the best advice you have received?

Stop sucking.

Would you have done anything different, in hindsight?

I made a few design decisions early in the development of the Slashdot Moderation System that I would like to take back.  Mainly, the revelation of the value of 'Karma'.  I revealed the value to users thinking it would be an interesting factoid... instead it became a scoring system and created all sorts of horrible waste-of-time game attacks on our system as users vied for the attention of others at the expense of discussion quality.

What do you do to relax?

Anime. Whiskey. Comics. Video Games.

How many awards have you achieved, and what ones meant the most?

I lost count of our awards years ago.  The thing about web awards is that nobody websites give them out solely to get linkage from larger, more successful websites.  It's strangely parasitic.  We stopped really caring a long time ago.  If the site giving the award is smaller than us, we don't really care.  I don't know what ones matter, but any award that gives me a plaque or a trophy is cool by me.  I have a shelf full of shiny pieces of lucite that looks really impressive.  Those awards are the cool ones ;)

In what ways are you controversial?

I think we're controversial because we allow a different sort of distributed discussion to occur than the "Real" news sites.  Everyone is more or less free to chat about whatever the news of the day is.  Any controversy on Slashdot stems from these unfettered discussions that happen a thousand times every day. It's out of control.  It's great fun.  And it really does generate interesting content.

Who are your competitors?

I don't really think we have true competition.  There are other sites that post similar news.  There are other sites that have comments and discussion systems.  But we're probably the biggest.  Our discussions are fairly unique to Slashdot itself.  For better or worse ;)

What gives you the edge?

We have one of the most tech savvy audiences online. These people aren't afraid to speak the truth.

Anything else you would like our readers to know? (we get many media types here).

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