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MIT Slashdotted

posted by jjohn on 2000.09.25 13:57   Printer-friendly
Rob Malda, creator of Slashdot and rabid Perl fan, one of his rare appearances outside of his Holland, MI home to talk about what life is like on the Slashdot Compound, why coders should care about lawsuits, and why he'll never take a course in journalism.

Last week, over 120 people filled room 100, a lecture hall in Vassar Hall at MIT, to hear the creator of slashdot.org speak. Malda half-jokingly bragged about not preparing for the speaking engagement in the slashdot news item annoucing his MIT appearance. One slashdot reader, Ninja Engineer, added a comment to this announcement cautioning Malda to at least "WRITE down all the points you to want to cover ... otherwise you will die, even in front of a small audience". Malda, in fact, did prepare by printing out the comments from the slashdot announcement and reading selections from the them to the crowd, including Ninja Engineer's.

Appearing in a sea-green tropical shirt and blue jeans, the short- cropped, goateed Malda began by explaining what slashdot was for the the "older" folks in the audience. He kept this brief to placate the majority of the twenty-somethings in the crowd. He then held up his right hand to demonstrate where in Michighan he lived, which was appearantly close to his palm's life line.

One of the most popular questions, which was asked a few times, was what did it take to run slashdot in the early days? Malda recounted the trouble he had juggling his studies, his day job and posting-coding-admin the increasingly popular web site. At one point, slashdot was saturating the T-1 which was hosting it. The problem was that the T-1 line was the only connection that the ISP had to the internet. And Holland only had one ISP at the time. So slashdot was responsible for consuming the bandwidth of an entire town.

One audience member, referring to Malda's notoriously poor grammar skills, suggested that Malda might benefit from reading a book on journalism. Malda scoffed at this saying it wouldn't be slashdot without the sloppy spelling. Jeff Bates, co-creator of slashdot and late arriver to Malda's talk, chimed in that slashdot is tries less to be like a "respectable" news site and more like a local pub that inspires conversations on many intellectual levels.

Although slashdot tries to avoid national politics, Malda is not shy about issues close to hackers' hearts like Napster, the DMCA and CueCat's claim of intellectual property violation over open source drivers for their barcode readers. For Malda, these issues of personal liberty are being neglicated by the very people who should care most about them. Should corporations be able to tell you what to do in the privacy of your home with items that you purchased? Any law that restricts an individual's ability to tinker with gadgets is anethma to Malda. To this end, Malda sees using slashdot as a tool for change as a positive thing. He lamented the apathy of most geeks toward participating in the fight against the forces that believe that intellectual property is a commodity to be protected.

When asked what his favorite part about slashdot is, Malda said that he can now get paid to do what he wants, he can live where he wants to and (because of slashdot's parent company, VA Research) play with all the hardware he wants. That is the best hack of all.

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