Slashdot creator on redesign backlash: ‘Every Slashdot change’ met with objections


The beta version of the Slashdot redesign. (Slashdot.org)

Since 1997, Slashdot.org has delivered "news for nerds." The site has been a hub for techies, nerds and geeks of all stripes to share and discuss the stories that matter to them. But the beta version of an upcoming redesign has some users up in arms -- and spamming unrelated Slashdot posts with critical comments ranging from detailed critiques to profanities.

Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda, the creator of Slashdot who left the site in 2011, wasn't surprised by the outrage. "Pretty much every Slashdot change, big or small, as been met with some level of community objection," he said in an e-mail. "When I originally added (totally optional!) user accounts in 1998, the community freaked out that I was asking them to even consider logging in!"

Keeping this in mind, Slashdot management says they moved carefully with the current redesign. "We knew we had to take our time with a redesign of a site that has been redesigned only a couple of times since its inception in 1997," said Slashdot general manager Phil Branon in a statement via e-mail. The first significant Slashdot redesign since 1998 came in summer 2006 -- unless you count the pink OMG!!! PONIES!! 2006 April Fool's redesign -- and another followed in 2011.

Malda also stresses that the current comment war doesn't necessarily reflect the opinion of everyone who frequents Slashdot. "It's easy to forget that the vocal population of a community driven site like Slashdot might be the most important group, but they are typically also the smallest class of users." The current caretakers of Slashdot need to balance the needs of all users with their limited engineering resources, Malda argues -- noting wryly, "It ain't easy."

The redesign has been in development for quite some time, with an open beta available to users since October. But earlier this week, the site started redirecting some of its users to the beta version. And a very vocal portion of the audience objected -- citing concerns with the design and the functionality of the updated commenting system.

Some even plotted a "boycott," with posts urging readers to "boycott stories and only discuss the abomination that is Slashdot Beta until Dice abandons the project" and to stay off of the site entirely during the week of Feb. 10-17.

By Thursday night, Slashdot had responded to the wave of criticism with a post saying it planned to slow down the implementation of the redesign:

We're committed to keep you informed of the plans as changes are implemented; we can't promise that every user will like every change, but we don't want anything to come as a surprise. Most importantly, we want you to know that Classic Slashdot isn't going away until we're confident that the new site is ready. And — okay, we've got it — it's not ready. We have work to do on four big areas: feature parity (especially for commenting); the overall UI, especially in terms of information density and headline scanning; plain old bugs; and, lastly, the need for a better framework for communicating about the How and the Why of this process.

This doesn't indicate that the redesign will be canceled altogether, as some Slashdot users hoped, but it will likely take longer than expected. "We realize we need to take a little more time to ensure we can meet the needs of as many Slashdot community members as possible," Branon said.

Disclosure: Rob Malda works at Trove -- a group formerly known as Washington Post Labs, but which no longer shares ownership with The Washington Post.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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