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Tim Lord: from “grammar flamer” to managing editor

Tim Lord, the managing editor of Slashdot, is happy that Slashdot is no longer the most anarchic news source on the Internet – he gives that honor to Digg.com. But Slashdot is still, joyfully, one of the net’s most open news sites – certainly more so than ohmynews or Global Voices. Slashdot uses two or three editors on any given day, who choose the stories that appear on the site and start conversations. While 300-400 submissions to Slashdot each day turn into only a few dozen stories, 5 to 6,000 comments get posted on every given day.

As a comment-driven site, Tim reports they’ve learned three things about people who participate:
– People are curious. They want to know about the world, even with situations that don’t effect them directly.
– People contentious – people like to argue and sway people to their point of view.
– People are surprisingly helpful. When they find disinformation on the net, they will often work to debunk it and report the real story.

Slashdot works primarily by posting summaries of interesting stories from other sources – Wired, The New York Times – then inviting discussion on them. Many of the most interesting contributions are comments, or comments on comments. To filter through the thousands of comments a day, some readers are given moderation points – randomly asigned – which they can apply to comments to help them rise above the noise. Editors have super-moderative powers to pull the best comments out, and also summarize some of the most interesting comments in a section called Backslash.

In a community where comments are key, editors must be readers first, editors second. Tim became an editor by sending in some “grammar flames”, then getting hired to improve the quality of the site. While Slashdot is open and participatory – to the point of bringing in flamers as editors – it’s not wide open. Other sites, like Kuro5hin, have “open queues” of potential stories – Slashdot doesn’t do this for fear of being spammed, or because “there are things in the queue we don’t want our mothers to see.” At the same time, Slashdot takes anonymity very seriously – the “Slash” system the site uses may or may not be appropriate as a CMS because it goes to such a great degree to protect reader anonymity, to the point of hashing IP addresses rather than logging them unencrypted.