Is Slashdot dying?

December 20th, 2005 by John Berry

Slashdot has long been a significant source of daily news for the tech community (dupes, typos, trolls and all). Over the past year, however, I’ve noticed a gradual decrease in its importance as a source of information. Others around me have echoed similar thoughts, so I gathered some statistics to see if this is a growing trend.

Without access to long-term Slashdot usage metrics, I looked at the number of comments per story for the last 7 years by writing a few scripts to walk through the Slashdot daily archives, cache them locally, parse the data and then generate a file with the output. Here are the initial results:

Monthly average comments per story
Monthly average comments per story

The yellow period in the data is due to Slashdot wonkiness. That range of time doesn’t return the usual filtered count (usually the filter is 3) without being logged in, and the overall comment counts are drastically lower than the trend, so I removed it from any conclusions.

There appears to be fairly significant falloff of average comments per story at the beginning of both 2004 and 2005. I also graphed the output of each day’s average comments per post as an xy scatter, reflected below with a trendline.

Daily average comments per story
(Polynomial trendline, order = 4)
Daily average comments per story

Note that the count for 9/11/2001 is not drawn (but included in the calculations), as it is exceptionally large.

This second graph reinforces the initial observation that community activity is on the decline.

Why is this happening?

The habits of those around me indicate that the decline in Slashdot activity is due to the following:

  • Broad adoption of RSS
    Feeds are ubiquitous, and the result is that everyone can easily customize their daily information exposure — much more precisely than CmdrTaco and the boys can.
  • Emergence of social applications
    Yep. Web2.0 apps are killing Slashdot. Relying on the community to process information relevance for individual consumption is a hell of a lot more efficient than Slashdot’s closed door approach (open source indeed). Sites like digg.com and the del.icio.us/popular are far more reliable indicators of what is being talked about.

See Digg Just Might Bury Slashdot at wired.com and The Rise of Digg.com on Slashdot.

What does this mean?

Each of the above linked stories suggest that users are relying on digg for timely information, and go to Slashdot when they want insightful commentary (digg and del.icio.us are for tuning in, Slashdot is for participating). This would imply a drop-off in visitor traffic, but not necessarily community activity (which we obviously see is happening). A sustained decline in both traffic and participation would be bad signs indeed.

If the pool of comments continues to drop, I suspect the signal-to-noise ratio will take an unfavorable turn. If Slashdot can’t do fast, and if it has no community, what remains?

I’ll to continue to track comment activity every few months to see if the trend continues.