Last week I spent some quality time interviewing Cory Doctorow. He’s on a book tour plugging Homeland (which I just finished, and is a fine read). We had a long chat on a variety of subjects ranging from cold brew coffee to 3d printing griefer attacks and everything in between.
Slashdot is turning 15 years old and celebrating all month with interviews and videos, but I suspect it’ll be hard to top this video that Jonathan Coulton emailed me. This is of course the classic “Code Monkey”… the Slashdot employees used to refer to me as their ‘Boring Manager Rob’. A touching little message from JoCo follows…
For me the story of Slashdot is utterly inseparable from my own life. I built it while still in college: when normal people did their homework or had personal lives, I spent my evenings making icons in The Gimp, crafting perl in vim or writing a new story to share with my friends. I’ll never forgot the nights spent tailing the access_log and celebrating a line from microsoft.com or mit.edu with friends like Jeff, Dave, Nate and Kurt.
Our professor explained the challenge of parallel programming by talking about workers in a factory stacking boxes: Adding more people makes the block stacking faster, but eventually the room gets crowded. More people means that they start bumping into each other or waiting in lines, getting slowly more inefficient.
Nate & I found the idea of humans stacking blocks in a factory to be hysterical. We envisioned a dystopian future where humans mindlessly stacked their blocks, only to have them toppled by a machine. They would punch their time cards and start over. We both had experience in factories and within corporate America, and we knew that reality often wasn’t that far from this silly vision.
I started Slashdot in 1997, but by 1998 it was costing far more than just my time to keep it going. My labor of love would die unless it became more than a hobby.
We cheekily named our company “Blockstackers”. When the dust settled, it was Nate, Kurt, Jeff & I. We started by monetizing Slashdot to fund its breakneck growth. But we also continued work on other projects like an ad platform called AdFu, a community site called Everything, and an MP3 system we were building jokingly called DJ Hernandez.
We sold Slashdot to Andover.Net in 1999. The plan was that Jeff & I would go to Andover to carry on, but Blockstackers would re-invest the proceeds into our other projects: refining the Everything engine, launching Everything2, and spawning a new site based on the engine known as Perl Monks. Other projects came and went: there was a review site for anime called AnimeFu, and unfortunately timed venture capital work.
Blockstackers supported a small staff for several years well after the bubble burst- this continued long after we knew the revenue situation wouldn’t be turning around. Inevitably, most of our projects were shuttered or handed off to others. Even I left Slashdot.
When we started Blockstackers, it was our tongue in cheek way of saying that we didn’t want to just be automatons in a machine. I’d like to think we have each achieved that in our own ways: Jeff at Google, and me at the Washington Post. Nate carries the torch best, running a new startup called Sight Machine, and bringing Kurt back in. Jeff & I are involved just enough for me to that I think of it as the adopted grandson of Blockstackers.
We celebrated last night with a feast representing the last of the petty cash. The corporation is at last officially dissolved. We are all adults with wives, mortgages, kids, and jobs. But we’re not stacking boxes. And at dinner last night, we laughed just as hard as we did at our school cafeteria decades ago.
#scifoo printing leather, de-extinction, and the future of general computing devices. Not a bad way to spend a morning.