After my latest survey on where Washington’s favorite sources for tech news, I began to spend more time on Slashdot. After a few of my submissions made it on to the front page, I acquired sufficient positive Karma to gain access to the firehose. The firehose is Slashdot’s term for the queue of stories readers have submitted for consideration for the front page. Readers with Slashdot journals can automatically submit their entries for the front page if they so choose.
The firehouse has a color bar to indicate how popular a story is. Blue is neutral, which can change to green, yellow, orange, and ultimately red. Stories with a red rating are usually placed on the front page. When the blue changes to purple, that is a indication that Slashdot users are not interested in the story.
Watching the firehose offers great insight into the editorial process. Stories you think will catch on will frequently fall flat. Others which seem so-so will catch fire. It takes a while to get a feel for the community.
Then there are times when a story seems to be catching fire, soon after submission the color change to yellow, than orange, and then it starts to cool off, meaning Slashdot users are rating the story down. Why? The most obvious explanation is that readers of the firehose consider the story to be overrated and not suitable. But in at least some cases it appears that negative stories that are hot are suddenly rated down. Is that because readers spontaneously decided the stories were “not the best,” or were corporate flacks down rating the story as a form of damage control?
Of course, who could afford to continuously monitor the firehose? So far as I know, there is no way to subscribe to it.
Slashdot is a valuable public square, and it is inevitable to flacks will be attracted ot it. Somehow Slashdot’s proprietors will have to find ways to prevent us from taking over.