A thing programmers hate to see. Signal 11 is the segmentation fault on UNIX systems.

As of early October 2000, Signal 11 has quit Slashdot, due to the institution of the Karma cap, and several public flamefests with CmdrTaco on IRC.

Signal 11's Farewell Speech
2000 10 02

I signed up for slashdot.org slightly over three years ago. Since that time I've seen it go from an obscure "news for nerds" website to being immensely popular with IT professionals. I was here before Linux was hyped. When Voices from the Hellmouth appeared on the front page, like most everybody else at the time, I was stunned into silence. Not only because this was the first time Katz had posted something that didn't stroke his ego, but also because it was a document that stood on its own. One could hear and feel the words because they were true; Like many on Slashdot I had gone through the now well-known geek/outcast stage during my schooling. Although by now it has been dragged through the media and featured so many times that many people's stomachs turn just mentioning it, but it was important at the time. It was definitely a turning point for the entire community. It was also the first time that Slashdot had featured an article of such far-reaching proportions. It was not Slashdot's daily bread and butter, which consisted mainly of short opinion pieces, a "ask the experts"-styled column and, of course, the daily links.

Slashdot at the time, to me was an experiment which was always on the verge of exploding. The scores of posts from users, the quick corrections as the authors realized (once again) that they had posted too soon, the inevitable technical difficulties - through all of this it seemed that the thing that kept the site from melting down was the fact that one could login to Slashdot and see what other people had to say. Whether it was Microsoft's latest underhanded tactic or a cool hack of a random piece of hardware, Slashdot had it covered... and more importantly, had the opinions of other like-minded people for one to read.

During all of that you had me. Like a fair number of other geeks, my job was boring and unchallenging. And like most people in tech support and web design, you get a lot of downtime too. One can only surf the web for so long before you've seen everything and been everywhere. Whatever the four-color glossies say, the interactive world out here is tiring, both mentally and physically. The natural solution, to me, was to lay on the refresh button of my browser and start posting to Slashdot. On practically every article that I could come up with an opinion on, I posted to. Some of them were fine works of literary art. Others were little more than OOG_THE_CAVEMAN posts, except without the capitalization.

In the middle of all this commotion a seemingly unsolvable problem appeared: Slashdot was becoming more popular. Doesn't seem like much of a problem, really, until you realize one of the first laws of the internet: "In any large gathering, the majority of people are idiots". Like Usenet, a subculture rapidly formed whose only objective, it seemed, was to crash the system by overloading it with stupidity. We tried ignoring it. Then we denounced it. Finally, we moderated it.

I probably narrowly missed being one of the "first 200" moderators. I'm glad I missed being selected because "Version 1.0" fared about as well as one could expect. Not only did it start on fire, but it also set a lot of other people on fire. Mass flaming ensued. A lot of normally well-tempered slashdotters suddenly had picked up their pitchfork and were threatening to lynch Rob. Oh, and the trolls? They were right there, continuing their stupid commentary and replying with silly comments… completely unaware that they had caused the Slashdot crew to silently segfault, and probably a lot of the readership in the process.

"Version 2.0", implemented maybe two months later, was pressed into service because the popularity of Slashdot (and hence the number of stupid people) had reached a level which was overwhelming even the 200 moderators (although about 1/3rd of them were axed after poorly moderating). The New Deal Moderation System™ was unveiled. Virtually anyone could participate. It was based on how often you used Slashdot and it was hoped (although never said out loud) that the trolls would be moderated away and we could be done for them and restore Slashdot to it's pre-popularity era where the comments were real comments, the articles were real articles, and the trolls from alpha centauri were real trolls from alpha centauri (with a tip of the hat to Douglas Adams).

Well, shortly after this I decided to test the system myself, and conducted a small-scale experiment by posting a variety of opinions and seeing how people reacted. I discovered that people responded more to emotionally charged statements and persuasive writing than informational writing. Not surprising, but I had expected it to not do as well for the technically minded Slashdot audience, who prided themselves on being able to spot FUD from a mile away. Apparently only Microsoft FUD could be easily spotted. I promptly let word of this leak out on my own little Slashdot homepage and waited for the flames to roll by.

Version 2.0, for a while, functioned quite well. In fact, the trolls vanished into the Sea of Negative One for some time. Then, one fine afternoon - I think it was a Thursday - the moderation system suddenly became useless again, and an entire brigade of the bastards charged the forums, upsetting furniture and leaving the place smelling rather nasty. Within a couple weeks Metamoderation was unveiled. "Moderate the Moderators" was the motto, and it failed almost overnight. Actually, it did fail overnight, because I remember a storm rolling by that night - it had moved due North from Michigan. Quite odd for a storm. It seems the trolls had organized.

Slashdot continued to grow at an unabashed rate, Napster started to become popular, Slashot was acquired by Andover.net causing an exodus of a fair number of slashdotters, and the entire system seemed to bog down under the load. All the while the trolls continued, at a distance, to take aim and fire tear gas into the crowds.

I continued my daily postings, bored as I was at my job, and by this time was known well enough that I decided not to let slip that I was Signal 11 in my casual conversations with other people in the technical field. I had, by this time, noticed that a distinct culture (and even a few subcultures) had formed around Slashdot and the trolls had seemed to take lessons from my short-lived experiment in the moderation system to heart and begin, as they called it, karma whoring. For the longest time, I just ignored this - I was interested in getting quality conversation out of my posts, they seemed intent on getting any conversation.

Unfortunately, as of late, that culture has disintegrated. Rob Malda, Slashdot God put in a karma cap. In a brief e-mail exchange with him, he noted that this was done specifically because of me, and that the karma cap would probably be lifted in the future - for everyone else. It seems my lasting legacy on Slashdot is in the moderation system. Even now, it is still the most controversial feature on Slashdot. I have long advocated changing the system. When Malda's solution to unfair moderation was the "bitchslap" - a practice whereby someone's karma is set to -50, and their default posting score to -1, was first used, I spoke with some of the people who it had happened to. People accused me of being the cause. After a lot of research and talking to Rob, I managed to get a couple of those accounts placed back at 0 karma and they were able to post again and be seen. Nobody really bothered to thank me.

The moderation system on Slashdot has, is, and will continue to be abused for the foreseeable future. Slashdot's biggest commodity and feature - the users' comments, have been buried under the noise.

I'm sorry to say that I think now is the time to move on. The moderation system here is broken, and nobody seems interested in fixing it. We'll see if there are other weblogs out there that I can contribute to in a meaningful fashion.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

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