Just under ten years ago, as I obsessively reviewed Salon's traffic logs in a bid to understand the circulation dynamics of online journalism, I noticed that whenever I wrote a story about a topic related to the free software movement, a huge burst of visitors would immediately come running, directed to me by a potent little "news for nerds" clearinghouse called Slashdot. So I promptly turned around and wrote a story about Slashdot, and began a mutually fulfilling working relationship that lasted several years. I would write a story about Linux, or Richard Stallman, or the evils of Microsoft, and thousands of Slashdot geeks would immediately tell me everything that I'd gotten wrong. I would then incorporate their criticism into my next story.
Incremental improvement assisted by reader feedback -- it's been my reporting motto ever since, and is the guiding principle of How the World Works. In thinking about how to participate in today's blogospheric conversation, in which every contribution is linked to, critiqued, praised, sliced and diced and redistributed all over the world, those early experiences with Slashdot proved to be an excellent learning template.
Even as my own intellectual interests have moved away from Slashdot's core obsessions, I've always kept a fond eye on the site, glad that it, like Salon, has somehow survived the many twists and turns of the Internet economy over the last decade. So I couldn't help but notice a press release that landed in my e-mail inbox moments ago, titled "SLASHDOT INTRODUCES FIREHOSE: A Next Generation Approach to Content Aggregation."
Slashdot.org today announced the release of the Slashdot Firehose interface: a new content aggregation and management system that enables potential Slashdot content to be drawn from user submissions, bookmarks, journal entries, and RSS feeds in addition to the existing Slashdot editorial process....The Firehose interface expands content aggregation to include expanded data collection, increased user participation, and a versatile user interface that provides rich streams of news and information to Slashdot users.
My first impulse is to be charitable: Slashdot's geeks have done some pioneering work enabling user-generated content aggregation, and kudos to them if they keep advancing the state of the art (although one does wonder how much of this is a response to the success of the newer generation of user-driven content services such as digg.) But when I read the following on-message marketing spiel from Executive Editor Jeff "Hemos" Bates, "It represents a next generation approach to content aggregation that allows for increased user participation and feedback," I also had to wince. Are we all doomed to become the very thing we started out mocking?
Looking at Slashdot's front page, I can't see a whisper about Firehose. And why should there be? Who in their right mind would think that such a dry and self-serving piece of marketing propaganda would be worthy of the attention of the Slashdot community?