Quit Slashdot.org Today!

Slashdot-free since Leap Day 2000

Welcome to the home of the Quit Slashdot movement. (Well, it's a small movement.) Anyway, here's my humble list of materials to help you quit Slashdot:

Update 14 April 2004

Update 28 Oct 2001:

Update 20 May 2001: 14,000+ hits last week, due to memepool and the inevitable fan-out effect. Notes:

Update 15 May 2001: Moving up! This page is now number 4 on Google searches for the phrase "Jon Katz idiot". Additionally, memepool.com has decided to link here as a public service. Welcome memepool readers! Pro-/. flames will be piped to /dev/null. Also, please note this e-mail, edited to deter spam-bots; (hey, they've got a sense of humor).

Update 11 Feb 2001: This page is number 13 on Google search for the phrase "Jon Katz idiot".

Top Nine Reasons to Quit Slashdot.org

#9. Slashdot is a plot by Microsoft to destroy the productivity of Linux users.

I have friends who were once tremendously productive programmers, until they started reading Slashdot. Then, the endless stream of links, updated a dozen times a day no less (so you don't go once a day to get your fix; instead, you keep a window open and hit reload every twenty minutes or so), steadily seduced them, until they eventually became babbling idiots, dribbling saliva from the corners of their mouths, ranting on the forums about the relative merits of Karma Whores and Anonymous Cowards. Can there be any doubt that this website is anything other than a nefarious ploy to destroy Linux by undermining the productivity of its developers? And is there any organization that would like to destroy Linux more than Microsoft? (Well, maybe the Santa Cruz Operation...) Is it any coincidence that just as the Feds were working out Microsoft's sentence, Microsoft sued Slashdot, resulting in a firestorm of geek ire that totally overshadowed the monopoly ruling?

#8. Screaming 14-year-old boys attempting to prove to each other that they are more 3133t than j00.

Need I say more?

#7. Technical opinions refereed by popular vote means lousy technical opinions.

Before the Internet, a certain breed of deconstructionists had a lot of fun telling everybody that "privileging of dominant paradigms" was wrecking the world. The Internet has taught us that privileging certain views is absolutely crucial to avoid drowning in the ravings of idiots. On Slashdot, many articles discuss technical issues---but comments are refereed by popular vote, and even though the populace of Slashdot readers knows somewhat more than your average set of people off the street, they still tend to promote (as in "moderate up") a lot of technical nonsense. Reading Slashdot can therefore often be worse than useless, especially to young and budding programmers: it can give you exactly the wrong idea about the technical issues it raises.

The pre-Internet publishing world had magazines, newspapers, and journals with editors. Respectable publications hired qualified editors. Those qualified editors were educated enough to make intelligent decisions about the quality of content. The Slashdot model removes the editors and substitutes popular vote, and the result (unfortunately) is that the quality level becomes incredibly inconsistent. It was an interesting experiment; it didn't work, not for Slashdot (though it might work in some other population of users). Too bad. Now, it's time to quit.

#6. Community myth that Linux is technically superior to any other operating system in the known universe.

People who do operating systems research, of course, think this is a joke. Dissent from this view in Slashdot, however, and you'd better be wearing your asbestos fatigues.

#5. Butt-ugly visual design.

Of course, this one's a matter of taste. However, in my analysis, the visual elements of the Slashdot site are basically hopelessly confused and wrong. From the cryptic links in the left margin, to the drop-shadowed graphics (hello, digital design cliche circa 1994?), to the offensively lousy color scheme (let's use circuit board green, because it's "News for Nerds", right?) I can't find much to like about the design of Slashdot.

#4. Gullible editorial staff continues to post links to any and all articles that vaguely criticize Linux in any way.

Blowhards (like the flock of irresponsible columnists over at the Windows-boosterism rag InfoWorld) have had tons of fun taking advantage of this tendency to drive hits to their site. On any given day, Slashdot readers are treated to another link to another column by another self-proclaimed pundit declaring that Linux is (pick one) unreliable, not scalable, not user-friendly, doomed, piracy-inducing, foul-smelling, or un-American. And irony was that the editors of Slashdot are falling right into the pundits' trap: inciting the Slashdot community is the one surefire way to drive up your hit count and hence your revenue from ad banners. Did the Slashdot editors ever wise up? Not that I ever saw. Given how tiresome the endless pro-Linux jihad had become by the time I quit, I have very little desire to go back and find out whether that's changed.

#3. Gullible editorial staff continues to post links to bogus pseudoscience articles by crackpots.

At the time I quit, the editors were posting links to theories of alternate consciousness, unified theories of the universe made up by people in their garages, and the like at a rate of two or three a week. And the number was only increasing. If I want to read articles that promote totally bogus pseudoscience, I'll open up the Village Voice. We don't need another webzine filling that role.

#2. Editorial/comment system pretends to be democratic but in reality most content remains firmly in the iron clasp of the editors.

The above problems with editorial could be solved if stories could be moderated as well as comments, or if editors paid attention to negative feedback about the posting of certain articles. However, the editorial staff, while pretending to be ideology-free selectors of any "interesting" content, in fact exert tremendous power over the content of the site, because they are the only ones who can select top-level links. They have furthermore demonstrated, for all the reasons above, that they cannot use this power wisely.

In fact, if you think about it, the links on Slashdot are easily an order of magnitude less interesting, on average, than those of Suck, Hotwired, or FEED---all of which are run by smart editors with good taste (and two of which are dead---thus proving that only the good die young). If you've read any of these webzines, you'll probably agree. Rob and Hemos simply don't compare, as editors, to Stephen Johnson or Joey Anuff.

So, really, it's time to ask yourself: why should I read Slashdot? Because it targets my demographic? That's a silly reason. So why not quit today?

#1. Two words: Jon Katz.

Every community has its resident gasbag. The difference between Slashdot and other communities is that they have the means to kick their village idiot off his soapbox, but they lack the will. If Jon Katz is not the single worst writer for any webzine, anywhere on the planet, alive today, then I am a penguin. His writing manages to be endlessly meandering and verbose, and simultaneously utterly content-free.

Notice, by the way, that I have not said a word about his technical acumen. It's not necessary to. Katz (who, like all opportunists, likes to paint himself as an innocent victim whenever he's criticized) makes a big deal about how there are "technical snobs" in the Linux user population who blast him for not being a technical genius. To tell the truth, Katz's inability to install even recent Linux distributions (which are arguably as easy to install as MacOS or Windows) on a run-of-the-mill x86 PC does testify to his general cluelessness. However, Katz is not a programmer or sysadmin; he's a writer. He must stand or fall based on the quality of his writing. And his writing is totally the pits. He would never have gotten published anywhere but Slashdot; even WIRED, cheerleaders of all things "digital" and "decentralized", finally got tired of his babbling and let him go. The cheesiest, most blatantly pandering "Hookers Who Read Proust" article on Salon.com displays more literary skill than the finest Katz screed ever to see the light of day.

To make things worse, Katz is also a shameless opportunist who regularly uses Slashdot to promote his books. And the Slashdot admins go right along with it. You can't criticize someone for their taste in friends, but you can criticize them for continuing in a relentless and blind nepotism that destroys the quality of the site.

No single factor was more pivotal in driving me away from Slashdot than Jon Katz. Even when I registered for an account and filtered Katz out, still he made it into news items not labeled Jon Katz---presumably to promote sales of his book. What other webzine displays such a blatant disrespect for its readers?

But then again, Katz's pandering, one-note "Ich bin ein Geek" spiel may be exactly what the Slashdot audience deserves.

Simply put, it's time to quit Slashdot, once and for all.

Alternatives to Slashdot

You may be wondering, "Where will I get the links and news that I've been getting from Slashdot?" I'll admit that Slashdot does post some nice links once in a while---however poorly edited and poorly moderated the site as a whole is. However, I've found that for all useful content on Slashdot, there exists another source that will point me to it.

Reading other sites decreases your need for a Slashdot fix, and also makes the quality deficit at Slashdot all the more obvious. My suggestions follow.


Science/Technology news

This depends on what kind of news you're interested in, of course. Here's a sampling of sites that will give you more targeted, more carefully selected news:

Ars Technica
An amateur (in the best sense of the word) PC user news site. The editors have a broad grasp of technical issues that is rare to find in an enthusiast site; as a result, their takes on tech tend to be uncannily on the money.

When Quit Slashdot! got posted to memepool, somebody (whose name I omit, to protect him from Slashdot groupthink flames) suggested bottomquark for science news. A brief skim suggests that bottomquark provides decent links for lay science enthusiasts, with no screaming 14-year-old boys.

Science Now
Daily news edited by the people who bring you Science, the premier all-sciences academic journal. Requires a (non-free) subscription, but your institution may already have one.

Wired News

Wired has its own annoying preoccupations, such as its obsession with tech stocks and Napster, but it tends to get the stories off the wires promptly and give a more clueful interpretation than, say, CNN. On the other hand, you should definitely not trust Wired News's reportage of political issues. The entire Wired organization is deeply steeped in libertarian groupthink and feels no qualms about distorting stories and quotes to advance their right-wing agenda. Caveat lector.

(Note, however, that I do subscribe to the Politech moderated mailing list run by Declan McCullough, Wired News's former Washington D.C. correspondent. Declan's annoyingly right-libertarian, but his list's consistently illuminating nonetheless.)

All open source news, all the time.

Yes, even "Slashdot" is better than Slashdot.


Electronic Frontier Foundation
If you really care about your political rights on the Internet, the EFF is one of the few organizations actually doing something to protect them. Join and support them; it's much better than whining in an online forum. Read the dispatches from the press room or subscribe to the EFFector newsletter for news updates.

TAPPED: The American Prospect's weblog
The American Prospect used to be one of those wonky think-tank-ish policy journals that came out every two months. A while back, they had a makeover as a more mainstream progressive political rag. They've become one of the few liberal political magazines that's neither shrill nor boring, and their smart weblog is one of the best sources for non-right-wing political coverage on the net.

The Baffler
Simply the best, angriest, and most coherent political writing in American journalism today. Unfortunately, their web offerings are a bit sparse.

Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email
Is anyone not against unsolicited commercial e-mail?


Tons of links. Witty writeups. Relatively little repetitive editorial b.s. (i.e., no "This is an interesting link! Check it out!"). If you want to check out the weirder side of the web, there's no better source. WARNING: this site can be as big a time-waster as Slashdot---though the pleasure-to-pain ratio is far higher. Proceed with caution.

A new site that uses the Slash code, but tries to attract a different community. Apparently a joint venture by the former editors of Feed and Suck, two of my favorite webzines. Worth checking out; let's see if this works out better than Slashdot did.

Back when FEED was alive, it had the most consistently even-handed and well-written articles on the web. They got a bit out of their depth when talking about technology---they never did hire a really qualified science writer---but not too annoyingly so. Their old articles are still archived, although they're not writing anything new as far as I can tell..

WORD.com, R.I.P.
Feed had the best writing, but Word had the most innovative total package on the web. The tricks they pulled off with their design, always pushing the boundaries of what's possible on the web, were a wonder to behold. (And the pages worked with my Netscape 4 browser on Linux!) Alas, Word.com is dead, and their domain appears to have been bought up by a corporation that will not be named, to avoid giving them publicity. Luckily, Word.com's column "Work" (of which Keith Gessen of Feed wrote a stellar review, also covering Saunders's Pastoralia, that's entertainment in itself) has been archived in a print book, Gig:
[ Barnes & Noble | Borders | Fatbrain | Powells ]

Pronounced "corrosion" (it's a long story), this site does seem marginally better than Slashdot because it subjects story submissions to a public moderation process (if you're going to be democratic, go all the way). Additionally, the editors are trying to encourage a culture of thoughtful commentary, not raging flames (succeeding is another matter, but you have to start somewhere).

Sites just as bad as Slashdot

Unfortunately, Slashdot is not an isolated phenomenon; there are many sites out there that, in attempting to be alternatives to Slashdot, have become mere imitators, as bad as (or even worse than) the original. I'm still trying to figure out what factors lead a site down that path (a population of vocal libertarians appears to be a major factor) but here they are:

The Register.co.uk
Although the Register has a ton of technology-related links, their reporting is simply crap. Case in point: the secret RIAA meeting hoax.

Nor are the Register's problems limited to falling for hoaxes. Consider this Register article, which claims that IBM's trading bots took on "half a dozen of New York's sharpest operators", said operators being "Wall Street traders". Their source is The New Scientist. But let's take a look at the original New Scientist article. Does it say who the people in the experiment are? Are they "Wall Street's sharpest", or are they volunteer test subjects at IBM? In fact, the quotations in the article imply specifically that the test subjects were not the "Gary Kasparov of trade", and the BBC reports that "none of the humans were investment professionals"! Furthermore, the Register's article states that some of the project team members worked on Deep Blue. This implication is found nowhere in the New Scientist article. In fact, the key members of the Deep Blue project team were Feng-Hsiung Hsu, Murray Campbell, Joe Hoane, Jerry Brody, and C.J. Tan. These names are conspicuously absent from the Information Economies Project roster, led by Kephart et al. Actually, if you had any technical clue, you would know that this makes perfect sense: the key technical challenge of Deep Blue was optimized minimax search algorithms, and hardware support for these algorithms. Minimax search is practically as ancient as AI itself. By contrast, an intelligent trading agent, which must adapt to a changing environment, and whose success depends in large part on how it interacts with other agents, is a totally different kind of AI problem.

So, basically, nearly everything in the Register article is wrong, except the very vaguest outlines. It is not wrong in trivial or incidental ways: it is wrong in ways that fundamentally distort the reader's understanding of the facts being reported. Furthermore, this shoddy reportage is more insidious than simply printing news of hoaxes: hoaxes may be uncovered, and the discovery widely publicized, but inaccuracies in reporting usually go unnoticed.

Furthermore, there's something else you notice about the New Scientist article, by contrast: there's actually substantive information. For example, in the New Scientist you learn that the experiment involved commodity auctions, not stocks, bonds, or futures; you learn the flavor of the strategies used by the bots; you learn the name of the bidding algorithms' inventor. Basically, the New Scientist article reads as though it comes from a real publication. The Register, on the other hand, is written by clueless geeks who don't know what journalism is. Compare the Red Herring's article on the same topic, or the BBC article linked above, and you see that the Register really is the pits. Reading the Register is not only a waste of time, it is actively dangerous: you will be misinformed.

The British have a long tradition of trashy tabloid journalism. I submit that The Register is the geek equivalent of British tabloids, with wildly inaccurate tech gossip substituting for wildly inaccurate celebrity gossip. Stop reading the Register today; you won't regret it.

P.S.: if you find the intelligent economic agents project interesting, you should really go to the source and read some papers. If I may digress a bit: most non-scientists are sadly unaware of how much cutting-edge scientific knowledge is available on the web in the form of published research papers. These papers have all the gory details you could want, with none of the lay media's distortions and mis-simplifications (of course, they have intrinsic distortion due to the opinions of the scientists, but that's unavoidable). Now, they're not always accessible to laypeople, but sometimes they are, and you should give them a try. In computer science, many peer-reviewed papers have at least introductions and conclusions that are understandable to anyone with a technical background, scientist or not.

Purporting to be "news for grown-ups", this site's banner calls it "the most controversial site on the web". In fact, this purely a troll site, started by ex-Slashdot and ex-Kuro5hin trolls who wanted more time and space to scream at each other like idiots (and draw people into screaming like idiots at them). I came across this site as a referrer in my weblogs; apparently there's a fanatical Microsoft devotee who links to this page religiously as a rejoinder to Linux advocates. I wonder if he's got any clue that
  • I use Linux (and other Unix flavors) almost exclusively whenever I need to get work done
  • The University of Washington lives in Microsoft's backyard, and our computer science department has strong ties to Microsoft Research. Yet we run most of our important systems (this web server, for example) on Unix.
Let me be quite clear: I do not hate Slashdot because I hate Linux. I hate Slashdot because I hate inanity. Adequacy.org manages the remarkable feat of beating Slashdot's record on that count.

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Quit Slashdot! FAQ

Q: Isn't it okay just to read Slashdot for the links?
A: No. Reading Slashdot for the links is like having "just one hit" off the crack pipe. Anyway, other sites such as Ars Technica have superior links, as I've mentioned.

Q: Are spinoffs that use the Slash code or lookalikes (such as dot.kde.org and nanodot.org) okay?
A: Yes. The bulletin board software written by the Slash crew is actually pretty nice (from the user's point of view, at least). I never disputed the Perl hacking skill of the Slashdot creators. My objections are to the editors' taste, the site's ugly visual design, and the Slashdot community's raging stupidity.

Q: Isn't reading Slashdot at least better than reading Usenet?
A: No. A moderated Usenet newsgroup like comp.lang.c++.moderated has a higher signal-to-noise ratio than even Slashdot with a threshold of 4 or 5. An unmoderated Usenet newsgroup like rec.arts.sf.written, given that your newsreader supports filtering, has both more civility than Slashdot with a threshold of 0 and more diversity of views than Slashdot with a threshold of +1. Additionally, newsreaders are much more efficient with bandwidth than any web-based forum system, including Slashdot, and are archived (or were, until recently) in well-indexed form at Deja (now Google Groups).

Q: If I don't read Slashdot, who will share interesting links with me, and with whom will I discuss the interesting links I find?
A: If you don't have friends with whom to share links and conversation, you have social problems and you should confront them instead of joining a cultlike pseudo-community. If you have too much free time and can't think of a better way to spend it than reading Slashdot, you need a hobby, a job, or both.

Q: Slashdot has a huge community and a constantly updated front page. You're one person with one static web page. How can you expect to win?
I don't see it in those terms. Basically, at any given time, most people in the world are wasting time. You can't solve the whole world's problems. But if we can turn back even one of those people---if even one person decides to quit Slashdot and do something productive---then that's a victory, however small.

Q: Why do you hate Rob and Hemos?
I don't hate Rob and Hemos. I don't even know Rob and Hemos. I'm sure they're nice guys, and in our brief e-mail exchanges they've both been polite. It's just that (a) I don't like their taste as editors, and (b) the Slashdot community's horrible taste tends to dominate your Slashdot reader experience, overwhelming whatever judgment the Slashdot founders exercise anyway.

Keunwoo Lee : Contact Information
Last modified: Thu Jun 2 13:53:58 PDT 2005