Slashdot's portrayal as a scrappy underdog really amazes me. The site was once valued at $414 million (my own estimate) after its acquisition by VA Linux during the dot-com craze. Today, judging by the parent company's stock price, it's worth about $1.25 million.
While the site is successful enough to support a small staff today and is well-respected and influential, its owner says it is "sort of" profitable today -- hardly a ringing endorsement -- and it belongs to a company that plunged from $250 a share to 75 cents.
I enjoy Slashdot, but how can a site once valued more highly than the New York Yankees be touted as a success because it makes a little money selling T-shirts and soap?
If Slashdot had never been sold to a public company, I could buy into this Horatio Alger tale. But the founders did sell, and a lot of investors lost money believing that VA Linux and one of its crown jewels, Slashdot, were worthy investments. Clearly they were not, and even today Slashdot sounds like an operation that is only modestly profitable if at all.
While it's great they provide an enjoyable, well-respected service, and I appreciate their continued existence, I wouldn't celebrate it as some kind of heroic tale of triumph in hard times. I don't think it's right to look past the fact that a lot of investors are appreciably poorer for having believed in Slashdot and its parent company. That ought to be as much a part of their story as the chump change they make hawking caffeinated soap.
I think it is a success for several reasons:
1. It has survived despite trying economic circumstances,
2. It is high-quality, free, and takes full advantage of the internet: in the bite-sized format, in ranked discussions, etc.
3. It is generally more responsive to its community than professional news sources.
4. That it is not a large corporation, that it is not supported by advertising from large corporations, allows a political perspective that is difficult to find in major news sources. This generally avoids a type of conflict of interest that arises in such corporate media: I'm reminded of how Harper's refused to run anti-smoking ads a few years back. (This is not to say that it's better than the NYTimes, but it can be more radical than the NYTimes; and diversity of ideas is a good thing, I think..).
It takes payments through PayPal. Users can pay to avoid banner ads.
It can be defined as a success if you use criteria other then profit. Or even "sort of" if you do use profit as the criteria.
Not every company is worth $275 million.
A company that puts out a service that millions enjoy, puts bread on the table and makes a difference however small in peoples day to day lives seems damn good in my eyes.
The company was and will never be worth 414 million. Whoever thought so was a moron. Frankly the stock market is based more on opinion and hype then cold hard facts, even today.
Rogers--you make it sound like slashdot's [founders'] fault that they were overvalued by naive and "irrationally exuberant" investors. I think the latter are the bad guys--that slashdot still survives despite investor stupidity, which has killed not a few cool ideas in this market crash--well, that's pretty neat.
I've invested money in losing dot-coms (though not VA Linux). I am to blame for my losses.
My point is that Slashdot's founders took the money and tied their fate (and reputation) to that of a public company which, as it has turned out, was dramatically unsuccessful by market standards. Slashdot's reputation should not remain unblemished after the Linux stock debacle its founders chose to participate in. That's one of the prices you should pay for going for the millions and soliciting the funds of the public.
If money doesn't matter at all, Slashdot is an admirable success, editorially, technically, and creatively. But if money matters, it's harder to call it a success.
I think the difference in perceptions is because the NYTimes article (and many other people) see Slashdot as being distinct from VA Linux/Software. The fact the VA's stock is in the dumps does not really impact Slashdot in any way. Slashdot, when seen as a website and not as part of the VA empire, is quite successful.