Slashdot Effect

The Slashdot Effect: Analysis of a Large-Scale Public Conversation on the World Wide Web
pdf_iconAlexander M. Campbell Halavais

Chair of the Supervisory Committee: Associate Professor John E. Bowes

Slashdot bills itself as the source of “News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters.” The site itself is a collective “web log” (blog), a way of concentrating news and other iinformation from the web and commenting upon it. In addition, reviews and other original materials are presented. In some respects, it bears a considerable resemblance to traditional print and on-line newspapers, but with a heavier reliance on contributed and found stories, and a greatly expanded section of letters to the editor.

This dissertation argues that Slashdot emerged from collaboration among a group that shares a cultural commitment to open discussion. This combination—the dedication to open discussion with the technology to facilitate mass interaction—allows Slashdot to perform the larger function of linking social groups, voices, and ideas that would otherwise remain separated. It is a force that acts against what has been called the “balkanization” of the world wide web, the formation of tight-knit hyperlinked clusters of web site in which the range of topics and viewpoints is fairly narrow. Slashdot is not perfect in this regard, by any means. Its users employ their own exclusionary practices, especially toward newcomers, and many remain uninterested in the technological discussions that take place there. Despite this, the number of those who read and participate on Slashdot has continued to grow exponentially over the last three years. More than most web sites, Slashdot exploits the connective structures of hypertext to unite disparate ideas, bringing them to a much wider audience than they would otherwise enjoy.

Slashdot represents an early example of a “virtual public.” By encouraging mass interaction and large-scale conversations, it falls somewhere between traditional explorations of organizational communication and larger-scale mass media systems. It is in some ways a distinctive application of computer networking. The exploration of the site presented here takes several forms. The culture of open source and computer professionals generally is discussed, examples of the discussions on Slashdot are analyzed, the context of Slashdot within the larger hyperlinked web is presented, and through two example cases, the interface between Slashdot and the traditional press is explored.

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