How far down the road to true open source journalism has Slashdot really gone?
Pretty far, but not all the way.
While blogs like this may mean ZDNet is in a Shared Source mode, Slashdot co-founder Jeff Bates says his site is more like Apache. Staffers taking "DaddyPants" duty are like Apache committers, but an enormous amount of work is done by others, even the "anonymous cowards" who decline to register.
"If you took just the time a moderator spends moderating, the per hour cost of that would be exorbitant. Roughly 3,000 moderation points are spent each day, a maximum of 5 per user. That's 750 people taking a half hour on each point. That's 375 hours. Imagine paying that per day for moderation. And you can't farm it out, because the knowledge base required for it is so high."
It's this community editing process that really makes open source journalism possible, the self-policing and free pushing of stories to the top of the stack. But it's still not anarchy, a GPL-like community. Structure and control remain.
"It's a regular occurrence that as a story grows, and people comment, we have to constantly update. That's the beautiful thing in how open journalism works A story is never done. There's always more that can be done. And as you add that on, you increase its value."
The tragedy is that most sites lack the volume of commenters needed to push this along. "You have to get the core audience," because just as in open source software, where 1/10th of 1% of people actually write the code, only a tiny percentage of contributors will provide valuable reporting free. "You end up with concentric rings of involvement."
The good news is that as the mountain grows, the lower slopes rise just as the peak does. That's why Bates is not troubled about the rise of "forge" sites for major projects. (Slashdot and Sourceforge have the same corporate parent, VA Linux.) "Part of being first is your scale is so much bigger."
So now that we all know Slashdot's secret sauce, and that of open source journalism in general, are we all ready to beat them at their own game?