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A Brief History of Slashdot Part 1, Chips & Dips 503

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the there's-probably-a-grateful-dead-quote-that-applies-here dept.
As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration, I've decided to post a story here telling the tale of the transition from Chips & Dips to Slashdot back in 1997. For those of you who are new here (cough), CnD was the precursor to Slashdot, hosted on my personal homepage on the CompSci cluster of Hope College. Along with a number of random Linux related webpages, themes for window managers, random bits of code I wrote, this page was read by a great number of folks, mostly from the IRC scene. Hit the link below to read the tale of its transformation into an Internet superstar (and maybe later I'll write the the sequel where I talk of the transformation into sellout mega corporate evil and eventually irrelevant blemish on the history of the net ;) And don't forget to check for a Slashdot 10 year anniversary party in your area.

In the summer of 1997 I was contacted by a stranger out of the blue with a kind of random offer. During the previous school year Nate Oostendorp (who now works with SourceForge, Inc. while working on his Masters) had coded a Space Invaders clone. He wrote a Java sprite library, and I wrote the game and illustrated the alien armada. This guy had an old DEC Alpha Multia 166, and a client that wanted to remake the game with popcorn instead of aliens. So I drew the popcorn up, replaced the gifs, and he mailed me my first non x86 box since the 286 I got in middle school. (Later Sun sent me legal threats forcing me to take the game offline since it was called Java Invaders, and clearly this was an evil crime against the universe. My hatred for Java has never died since that moment.)

I immediately installed Red Hat on it. I was working at an ad agency called The Image Group at the time as a webmaster. I coded whatever needed doing and handled various admin tasks to keep their clients happy. At the time they needed full control over email addresses on the domains they built. Since they shared their mailserver with their ISP, there were frequent name collisions -- if the client wanted bob@theirdomain.com but there already was a bob on the system, they couldn't do it. They agreed to let me move my little Alpha onto their network to host their email... and I could use it to fart around with on my personal hobbies.

I named the box Ariel. It sat under my desk. I learned enough Perl to write a stupid simple CMS to replace the functionality of Chips & Dips, which up until that point was just a text file. Dave DeMaagd wrote a simple comment system. Since we both had a long history with BBSes, it seemed obvious to us that there needed to be a discussion system. There were no user accounts -- you entered whatever name you wanted each time you posted. If you left it blank, it auto-filled the space with the name 'Anonymous Coward', a title that stuck and spread throughout the net.

The original system was written in Perl because I wanted to learn more Perl. All the data storage was flat text files. (We lost most of the original stories during a data import a year or so later) The files were named like 0000001.shtml and so forth and were all rendered at time of page request. Best of all, since the system was written as a CGI, the whole script needed to be compiled every time there was a page request. It was months before I ported the whole thing to use MySQL and mod_Perl.

I registered the domain name Slashdot.org as a joke. It was 'org' because I didn't want a .com -- those were so common. I always thought org would be cooler, and besides, I had no commercial plans in mind. (Years later this bit me on the ass since someone else registered the .com. Doh!) The URL was meant to be unpronounceable by anyone -- a joke ultimately that has backfired on me countless times when I'm called and asked what the URL is to the damn thing. Jeff 'Hemos' Bates (now a VP of something or other with SourceForge, Inc.) was in the living room when I was registering the domain name. We all wanted email addresses with a unique domain name that wasn't attached to our school, so he chipped in on the registration fee.

When it came time to design the website's look, I took elements from a theme we had designed at The Image Group -- Paul Hart and I spent hours on it -- that was supposed to be the new website for the company, but it was passed on for another look. I still liked it, so I redesigned it more to my personal aesthetics (choosing #006666 as the dominant green replacing an earth tone green) and putting drop shadows all over everything (a habit I still haven't broken, and for which I am still mocked). Within days, most of the design elements you see on Slashdot were in place... the curves, the greens, the polls, the vertical list of stories so common in 2007, and, of course, discussions on each story.

And Slashdot was born. At first it had just a few thousand daily readers migrating over from Chips & Dips, but in a matter of weeks it had grown so fast that we started really having fun with it. One night we put up a poll asking how many shots Kurt 'The Pope' DeMaagd should drink. (Kurt later became our defacto HR man when we formed Blockstackers... today he is a professor at MSU.) But that night, Slashdot readers told him to take a dozen shots of alcohol -- he failed, but he tried.

I remember around the same time just watching 'tail -f' on the access_log. My world was rocked over and over again as I watched the domain names... mit.com! ibm.com! redhat.com! Hell, even microsoft.com kept scrolling through the log. I knew we had something... people from around the world, from the highest institutions in the land, from the biggest companies in the tech sector and to the most influential in the Linux world were all reading Slashdot. In fact, they were posting comments... as were a lot of people. It became commonplace to see hundreds of comments on stories, and the so-called 'Slashdot Effect' slowly grew into our lexicon as site after site buckled under our links.

In those days the content was a lot more personal then it is today. Stories would frequently refer to alcohol-related activities. I'd constantly mention that I had to leave to go to class so there wouldn't be more stories posted for a few hours. And when a professor in my pottery class assigned homework of to mass produce and sell some pottery as a lesson in being a commercial artist, I posted it, and ended up getting over 100 requests to buy my shitty mugs (all glazed teal ;) In the end I never did sell them -- I fulfilled the assignment locally. I think I still have one of those mugs left but I'm not sure- over the years my mediocre ceramics have been filtered out of a home increasingly tastefully decorated by my wife.

I continued to go to class and work my part time job. Ariel soon had loads so great that the machine was unusable during the day. And occasionally I would accidentally kick it and knock out a cable, bringing the machine offline. Soon after it saturated the office T1, I started realizing that there was no way I was going to be able to do this as "Just" a hobby. Essentially, every second of my life was consumed without time for a break. I'd go to class -- and often just work on Slashdot in the back row. (This was the first year we had computers at our desks in the CS dept at Hope.) My classwork suffered. On the upside, I became far more proficient at webwork, which really helped the part time job. I'd go home and code, post stories, reply to email until 2-3 a.m. and repeat it the next day. It was going to eventually be a full time job, requiring revenue and infrastructure that didn't exist back then. But I guess that's another story.

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A Brief History of Slashdot Part 1, Chips & Dips

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  • I was there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) * on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:02PM (#20838495) Homepage Journal
    'Cause CnD was a top-hit on AltaVista for "WindowMaker" and "Enlightenment".

    • Mmm, Enlightenment (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:07PM (#20838571) Homepage
      Yes, Slashdot had some strange preoccupations in the early(*) days... every other story seemed to be about a new development release of Enlightenment (and a bit later some cheesy themes.org upload) or the 2.1 Linux kernel.

      Wait a sec - I think I probably prefer that to the speculation and corporate soap opera / press releases that clog up the front page these days.

      (*) Not that early. I started reading when Netscape announced their plans to free their web browser.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by runenfool (503)
      How can you even remember that long ago? I haven't the slighted recollection on how I ended up at slashdot ... funny Im here ten years later :)

      Strangely enough I think the fact that it was a weird name (with no www, nonetheless) that kept me here ... made it easier to remember. The good ole days of working phone tech support, making no money, but surfing the web and sitting on slashdot all day ...
      • by Erich (151)
        I, too, started reading slashdot whilst doing phone tech support, the summer before and Christmas break of my Freshman year at College.
        • by mikael (484)
          Wow, how many others of the three digit crowd are still around?
          • by Wheely (2500) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @02:06PM (#20840577)
            Well over a thousand I should think.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Sanat (702)
            Still here too. I imagine there are lots of old timers who read and lurk here rather than posting all that much. Seems that what i have to say any more is less important even to me, so instead I enjoy the insight and the varied positions of the various posters on Slashdot.
      • by stuntpope (19736)
        Same here - no recollection of how, when, or why I ended up on Slashdot. I know it was no later than '99, possibly '98. Never heard of Chips and Dip. Apparently I held off on registering an account.

        Maybe if someone posted the most common Slashdot memes and when they arose, like Natalie Portman and grits, I could have a better idea of when I started visiting.
    • by NeoTron (6020)
      I wasn't there, but, I did register with /. relatively early on in its history, and have been reading it ever since.

      To the Anonymous Cowards who posted "Nobody Cares" , well actually I *do* care.

      Regards.
    • by crayz (1056)
      I was never there for Chips & Dips, but wasn't there a time Slashdot existed before the current user scheme?
    • WindowMaker [windowmaker.info] and Enlightenment [enlightenment.org]

      I still use the wallpapers from Rob's 2001-inspired, "Obsidian" theme.

      Do you remember when building Enlightenment required the X-Free tools and xmkmf [xfree86.org]
      • by cblack (4342)
        I remember that theme, the all black with beveled borders icons, etc. I must have it somewhere in my home directory but I haven't used enlightenment for quite awhile.
    • by Enry (630)
      Friend of mine pointed me here. 10 years. Wow.
    • by Otter (3800)
      Like most of the early Mac crowd here, I came over via MacOS Rumors, back when Ryan Meader and Black Light Media ran Slashdot's advertising.

      I think Taco and Hemos would up getting a lot richer than Ryan did, though.

      CnD was a top-hit on AltaVista for "WindowMaker" and "Enlightenment".

      Ironically, Enlightenment probably is less functional today than it was then.

    • by Lev13than (581686) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:46PM (#20839209) Homepage
      Here's the Wayback archive of Rob Malda's page [archive.org] at Hope College.

      From his About Me [archive.org] page: "In closing, I would just like to say that if you read this whole document, then you need more of a life than I need for typing it." Keep in mind that this is the same page that states he got into computers due to "A strong need to somehow construct a woman like those kids in Weird Science".
  • ...this thread is useless without pics =)
    • by Tet (2721)
      ...this thread is useless without pics =)

      Here you go [nrao.edu]. From memory, it was that image that brought me to CnD in the first place...

  • Low ID Roll call (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Critical_ (25211)
    Low ID Roll call!!!

    I figured this was necessary to get all the old chaps from the CnD days out.

    Don't hold my high ID against me. I waited until the last minute to sign up for an account.
    • by PhilHibbs (4537)
      I guess I just about qualify. Slashdot was pretty much established as an internet phenomenon when I started reading though.
      • I think that's my number. Could have been lower if I had cared to register earlier. Anyhow, yeah, I've been reading on and off for a while. It's changed surprisingly little over the years.
    • by Tet (2721)
      Don't hold my high ID against me. I waited until the last minute to sign up for an account.

      Heh... and I thought I held out for a long time!

    • Was also a hold out on registering.. but I think I started following around 98 when I was working Tech support at Erols Internet, or abuse at uunet (pre mci days)
    • by cblack (4342)
      I don't often post these days and also try to avoid reading comments TOO much since it can be such a time sink. I figured I'd make an appearance :)
    • Re:Low ID Roll call (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:29PM (#20838951) Homepage

      I always love these little bits, although they usually spawn more organically.

      Really, I'd like to see a list of when various account IDs were created. I know I've been around for a long time (I think 6-7 years or so) but I really don't know. But if I knew when 10000 was created, 100000, 200000, 1000000, etc... I could estimate. Plus is would just be interesting to see.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Brian360 (210854)
        Well, I found an old e-mail sent to me from slashdot back in 2000... I have no idea when my account was actually created though.

        Received: from mail.andover.net [64.28.67.55] (slashdot@slashdot.org); Thu, 13 Jul 2000 14:01:19 -0400
        X-Envelope-To: bweaver
        Received: from localhost (nobody@www4.slashdot.com [10.2.48.4])
        by mail.andover.net (8.10.0/8.10.0) with SMTP id e6DI1UA08134
        for <bweaver@mailandnews.com>; Thu, 13 Jul 2000 14:01:30 -0400
        Message-Id
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jareds (100340)
        I registered on Oct 8, 1999 (I have the original registration e-mail, and this matches my recollection of registering as a college freshman), so that is presumably very nearly when 100000 registered.
    • by Gulthek (12570)
      I'd have a lower id, but when registration started it was "Another site with pointless registration?? Why?" Then they added (or I discovered?) the perks (mod points, customization, etc.).
  • DEC Alpha Multia 166 oh man that was the first web server I ever built. I also used Red Hat ahhh good times good times I ran it on the brand new highspeed internet in Alexandria VA Jones cable (bought by Comcast) only one of 300 using it. The cable modem was heaver than the DEC hudge! I still have it in a box some where bouth the cable modem and the DEC
  • by Erich (151) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:13PM (#20838659) Homepage Journal
    Before the signal-to-noise ratio was so low, before ads, before the need for accounts...

    It was a simpler, friendlier time.

    Sniff.
  • Awesome Story (Score:3, Insightful)

    by noname4444 (972861) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:16PM (#20838721)
    As someone who only started reading Slashdot about 3 years ago, reading the history is extremely interesting. Thank you for posting this.

    I'm looking forward to the future Slashdot stories later this week!
  • On the anniversary page:

    503 Service Unavailable

    The service is not available. Please try again later.
    We've slashdotted slashdot! Cue universe implosion.

  • Thanks, Taco (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mobby_6kl (668092) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:36PM (#20839039)
    I was actually hoping you'd start writing about /. especially since I wasn't around here back then at the beginning. Certainly do write more, either about the CnD transformation or just random stories that are somehow related to CnD or /.. It feels like there should be enough material for a small book, let alone a series of short articles.

    And, since I missed the original anniversary story, congratulations!
  • and maybe later I'll write the the sequel where I talk of the transformation into sellout mega corporate evil and eventually irrelevant blemish on the history of the net
    When will the bidding start, and what's the reserve price for the sellout?







    (:-) for the humor impaired.
  • I remember when... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Craig Maloney (1104) * on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:43PM (#20839163) Homepage
    I remember stumbling on Chips and Dips when I was looking through the Hope pages wondering what the department was doing. Seemed like a pretty interesting little project, so I've continued lurking and contributing when I could. I've really enjoyed the site, and can't thank Rob enough for all of the years of reading. It's still the site I use for my tech news, despite the Diggs, Reddits, and what-nots.

    Thanks again. Rob, for Slashdot back then, and may there be many many more years of Slashdot to come!
  • by RendonWI (958388) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:57PM (#20839395)
    I don't get it, so what if it is 2 years old?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:59PM (#20839431)
    Wow. *snap fingers* Ten years just like that.

    Way back in the first few days, /. was quite wild and fun and about half the posts were trolls, flamebaits, races to see who could get the first post, with a whole lot of personality mixed in. If Jon Katz (To all former Katz haters, I still think we did the site an immense service, especially around the time of the Columbine shootings.) were still here, I think he'd have a lot of very interesting things to say about the good this site has done.

    What was wilder still was that not too long after I first joined, the first attempts at moderation came into effect -- and for some reason they decided to let a sort of "down in the dumps at the time techie" who is a pretty good writer -- uh, that would be me -- be one of the few who started the moderation ball rolling. At the time if ya let someone know you were one of the moderators or abused the privilege --> poof no more moderation for you bucko!

    Within weeks /. rose out of the dregs to become a site I still participate in from time to time, that I am proud to call part of my daily web experience, and that has shaped quite a few important debates, from the DCMA to SCO and a lot of ground in between. And I got to play in their sandbox and try to make a little difference in the world along the way. [They even tell me I have excellent Karma. :-) ]

    I want to point at one more accomplishment over the last few yearsthat really deserves a standing ovation: on 9/11/2001, Slashdot was the only major news feed on the web that didn't crash due to overload, and this on technology and bandwidth that was way way WAY behind what we have now.


    So, anonymously from a long time /. reader: thanks Malda and crew. Here's to as many more years as you choose to be the king of the sandbox.

  • www.slashdot.org (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TechwoIf (1004763) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:03PM (#20839493) Homepage
    When will http://slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org] come out of the dark ages and grow up to http://www.slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org] ? http://www.slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org] has been down for years. Could some of you early ones fill in on the story behind this strangeness?
    • Re:www.slashdot.org (Score:5, Informative)

      by CmdrTaco (1) Works for Slashdot <`malda' `at' `slashdot.org'> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:08PM (#20839575) Homepage Journal
      I can explain that... I have a philosophical problem with 'www'. 'www' is redundant... 'www' implies that this is a web site. Web sites communicate using the http protocol. So to have 'http' and 'www' in the same URL is redundant and needless. I used to refer to it as The Cursed WWW, or TCWWW. you don't need to say ftp://ftp.sitename.com [sitename.com] because it's REDUNDANT. You're wasting letters and time dammit! So to this day I always try to redirect people from 'www' to the base domain name.

      Unfortunately this causes problems with domains & cookies. A cookie set by foo.domain.com is invisible to domain.com, so if you login while viewing 'games.slashdot.org' you aren't necessarily logged in to 'slashdot.org'. And this all really sucks because apparently advertisers seem to think that if it's not in the URL, it's not part of the content of the page. This context sensitive advertising thing is responsibile for an awful lot of stupid URLs that just make it harder to share information through meatspace.

  • by StormReaver (59959) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:05PM (#20839533)
    I don't remember when (or how) I first came upon Slashdot, but it was in the early years. I used it for a long time before registering for an account, simply to rebel against what was then deemed to be an unacceptable invasion of privacy (I was quite paranoid back then). If I had known how horny the hot chicks got over low Slashdot IDs, I would have registered far earlier -sigh-.
  • As an old-timer .. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by torpor (458) * <jayv.synth@net> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:49PM (#20840245) Homepage Journal
    .. I yearn for the days when I would get a personal message from Cmrd. Taco and the gang, just for posting something smart to their new website.

    Ah, those were the days. Before 'blogs' (what a horrid term), before 'wiki' (oh even worse...), before the push and the pull and the stagnation. Before hot grits. When you could check the site every *two days* or so, and not necessarily miss a story.

    Oh, slashdot, you are a tempestuous mistress, but how we love you well ..

  • It's true (Score:3, Interesting)

    by J4 (449) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @02:21PM (#20840845) Homepage
    Back when I first came here one could read every comment from every story posted and still have spare time.
  • by Ted Stevens (1166671) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @02:44PM (#20841259)
    ...just hoping that someday 1166671 will be a low id.
  • by Average (648) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @04:04PM (#20842519)
    I can't be the only sub-5-digit Slashdotter who still works in the same building, same floor (different office number) that I was ten years ago when I registered.

    I swear, I'll finish my thesis one of these days (grin)!
  • by crumley (12964) * on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @04:48PM (#20843153) Homepage Journal

    Is that really the way Anonymous Coward started? If so, my memory is failing.

    I remember that there was a user that called himself Anonymous Coward in the days before user accounts. I thought that he wrote some pretty decent, though sometimes trollish, posts. Then there were all kinds of problems with people impersonating other users (especially Bruce Perens). So user accounts were created. When the accounts were created, the name "Anonymous Coward" was appropriated from people who weren't logged in. Some claimed that this ticked off the original AC, though no one could tell for sure.

    Anyway, if anyone else remembers any of that, please back me up.

  • Wayback Machine (Score:4, Informative)

    by Frankie70 (803801) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @08:47PM (#20845795)
    Chips and Dips [archive.org] from the wayback
    machine.

    Early slashdot pages [archive.org].

fortune: not found

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