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

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 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 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...!!! Hell, even 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 ) <> 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 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.
  • Low ID Roll call (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Critical_ ( 25211 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:10PM (#20838617) Homepage
    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.
  • Re:I was there (Score:3, Interesting)

    by runenfool ( 503 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:12PM (#20838649)
    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 ...
  • Re:Low ID Roll call (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> 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.

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

    From his About Me [] 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".
  • by CmdrTaco ( 1 ) Works for Slashdot <> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @12:56PM (#20839381) Homepage Journal
    It was called ePlus. At first I just themeified asclock and released it for E. Before that I had written a CD switcher applet for the AfterStep dock, as well as a volume controller. Later I merged the clock, volume controls, and a few other things into a fully themable suite of little widgets for Enlightenment. Good times.
  • 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.

  • (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TechwoIf ( 1004763 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:03PM (#20839493) Homepage
    When will [] come out of the dark ages and grow up to [] ? [] has been down for years. Could some of you early ones fill in on the story behind this strangeness?
  • Re:Low ID Roll call (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ShadowBlade ( 215 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:06PM (#20839537)
    I rarely ever post, but I've been reading /. since the beginning.
  • by JavaRob ( 28971 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:35PM (#20840031) Homepage Journal
    Here's the first link the wayback machine has to Slashdot itself, at the start of 1997 [].

    You should check some of the other versions [] as well... later on that year [], /. was already pretty damned close to what it is today, visually at least.

    I personally signed up sometime around either the summer of '97 or '98, I think... possibly '98, or my UID would be lower?
  • Re:Low ID Roll call (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jeff Lightfoot ( 413 ) * <> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:43PM (#20840147) Homepage
    A few years back I had four offers of $100+ for my ID number. I'm glad I didn't take them. Some things you just can't replace.
  • (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:44PM (#20840161) Homepage Journal
    You're showing your youth now. In the days when raw computers were regularly attached to the internet, could be a DNS alias for whatever machine at (inevitably either or had been configured to have the NCSA web server on it. No-one would consider redirecting any port 80 traffic to a dedicated web server. Thus became the default, easy-to-remember name for "the webserver at".

    An nslookup on "" would frequently not even return a valid IP address -- and why should it, that's a domain not a machine, and domains got IP ranges, while individual IP addresses were allocated to machines.
  • As an old-timer .. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by torpor ( 458 ) * <<ibisum> <at> <>> 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 ..

  • by grappler ( 14976 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:52PM (#20840319) Homepage
    Yeah, I read for a long time before getting a uid. I'm always very reluctant to actually sign up for a site. Yet another username/password to keep track of. Cost me a lot of bragging points I suppose.

    I first found the open source world when, as a 16 year old, I searched for "hacking" and instead of tips on unlocking software and spreading 'warez', I found myself reading an essay by Eric Raymond [] on what it means to be a 'real hacker'.

    From there I decided to build my own Linux box and started following Linux weekly news for updates (I needed support for my graphics card to come out, so I followed every update). Many of their stories linked to Slashdot stories, so that's how I found /. That was either 1997 or 1998.
  • Re:Low ID Roll call (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Vadim Grinshpun ( 31 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @01:55PM (#20840373) Homepage
    I wasn't actually one of the CnD crowd, but was introduced to /. sometime during my freshman year in college ('97-'98). But I'll answer the roll-call anyway.
  • by Mandrake ( 3939 ) <> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @02:02PM (#20840519) Homepage Journal
    eplus was actually the precursor to the whole 'epplet' / etc stuff that we started working on around 0.15/0.16 - and the reason that we wanted to make stuff like that work. I know I ran ePlus for ages after it was 'unsupported' by you hacking various fixes for using updated versions of stuff like imlib
  • 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.
  • Re:I tried... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by J4 ( 449 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @02:46PM (#20841297) Homepage
    Did you ever notice how you never see Wil Wheaton and CmdrTaco in the same photograph?
  • (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CmdrTaco ( 1 ) Works for Slashdot <> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @03:57PM (#20842423) Homepage Journal
    yeah you can do but back in the day (not sure if it's still true) some browsers would not let '' get at a cookie saved to ''. Cookies were a really shitty standard for a few years there.
  • Re:I was there (Score:3, Interesting)

    by afidel ( 530433 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @04:16PM (#20842735)
    I always find the UID discussion funny. Most people with UID's in the 2-4 digit range started reading slashdot early enough to remember there weren't any at the start. I personally only signed up for a named account after the atrocity that was John Katz when they added the feature to block certain authors.
  • 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.

  • by drachenstern ( 160456 ) <> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @06:15PM (#20844261) Journal
    Why don't the user pages have join dates? After reading through a large portion of this thread (during class, my apologies to all, CmdrTaco gets it) I realized that most of us don't realize how long we've been reading this site, much less how long we've been _officially_ contributing.

    Just thought I would tag your comment and hope for a reply shortly.
  • Re:Low ID Roll call (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TopSpin ( 753 ) * on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @06:55PM (#20844669) Journal

    I'm not sure when I got my account, but I do know slashdot had user accounts for a while before I bothered signing up for one. They were available for at least a few months before I signed up.
    Same here. I might have to go dig up that enrollment email. Lost track of the account for years before it occurred to me that I had created it. I'll admit I was rather pleased to discover it was a sub-1000 id. I don't recall feeling any pressing need to get in early; I know I'd been lurking a while before I got around to it.

    Anyhow, Slashdot still rocks; it's one of three sites I check every morning. The other two having been fungible over the years.

    Many happy returns.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson