Slashdot: New, improved, goes well with chicken

This month, geek megasite Slashdot seamlessly upgraded its hardware setup from three to six servers to keep up with demand from users to read, as Slashdot puts it, "stuff that matters." Slashdot is also adding new content areas to the site, the first of which -- YRO, or "your rights online" -- is already available.

Slashdot plans to add more channels in the near future, according to site founder Rob Malda. These will probably include special areas on Apache and BSD. Only the best 10 to 15 stories get posted to Slashdot each day, Malda said, and more good material on Apache, BSD, and other interest areas gets submitted than can make it to the front page. He added that he has even considered spinning Linux off onto a separate interest area on the site.

Malda claims that Slashdot is up to about 600,000 page views per day, compared to about 250,000 per day one year ago. "Growth has been pretty steady ever since we started," he said. To keep up with interest, the site recently upgraded its hardware. Slashdot now runs on six servers instead of three. All of the new machines run the Debian distribution of Linux, and all but one of the boxes are single Pentium II machines.

Basically, the site is served from one dual Pentium II machine running a MySQL database that is exported via NFS (because a mirror or mirrors would not be fast enough to be both seamless and transparent); one box serves images, one serves banner ads, and the remaining three run Apache and mod_perl to serve both the static and the dynamically-generated content on the site. An Alteon load balancer, which hands off requests to the Apache servers, finishes off the basic configuration.

With this new setup, Slashdot has tripled its serving power to 35 pages and 30 megabits per second, as compared to the 12 pages/10 megabits per second available with the previous setup. "People have stopped emailing me to complain that the server is slow," Malda said. "The new hardware means a bigger, better, and faster Slashdot. And it goes well with chicken."

Malda, aka CmdrTaco, told LinuxWorld that he is happy with the recent acquisition of his site by Andover.net; the new parent company has provided Slashdot with some much-needed infrastructure support, the server upgrade being only the most obvious example. The machines were bought and configured by Andover.net, and, as Malda told LinuxWorld, "All I had to do was to port my Slashdot code," which is written in Perl, from the old servers to the new.

Bug fixes, security enhancements, and the introduction of metamoderation round off the recent changes to the site, as Malda spent the last week in what he described as a "coding frenzy." Metamoderation allows readers to turn the tables, rating the moderators who normally rate those readers who contribute to the discussion forums.

The metamoderation, and introduction of new topic areas like BSD and Apache, are in keeping with the site's original aim: to achieve the usefulness of Usenet, without the chaos of unmoderated newsgroups or the censorship of moderated newsgroups.

It's natural that Slashdot would remain true to its original vision, because the understanding that Malda would retain editorial control over the site was built into the takeover deal. And Malda says that this promise has been kept. Besides the additional help in hardware, Andover.net handles all banner ad placement and marketing for Slashdot -- but does not interfere with editorial content. Malda says that there has been one major change since the acquisition: "Now I get a paycheck."

Regular paychecks are surely nice, but one is moved to wonder why CmdrTaco needs one, when the Andover.net acquisition of his site is rumored to have netted him between $10 and $24 million. The answer is that he likes the work he's doing.

"I hope that I'm not [still running Slashdot] when I'm 48 years old," Malda told LinuxWorld, "but that's 25 years from now. For now, I'm not going anywhere."

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