Andover.Net scoops up seminal Slashdot site

Slashdot.org, the high-traffic Web site that has become the meeting place for Linux advocates, has been acquired by Andover.Net.

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Slashdot.org, the high-traffic, "news for nerds" Web site that has become the meeting place for Linux advocates and the open source movement, has been acquired by Andover.Net, a site devoted to news and tools for Internet developers.

Slashdot's content won't change under the new management, said founder Rob Malda, who will continue to run the site. Andover.Net will bring new hardware and an advertising sales force and will benefit from the advertising revenue from Slashdot, said Andover.Net chief executive Bruce Twickler.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though Twickler said his company paid fair market value.

The acquisition is another demonstration of the transformation in recent months of the upstart Linux operating system and of open source software from a serious hobby to a serious business proposition. Another example is the decision by Linux seller Red Hat to go public.

Discussion sites for Linux have been all the rage. VA Linux Systems links to Linux Today discussion sites for its Linux.com portal, and Red Hat repackages Slashdot and other sites for its Linux Index portal site.

In its declaration to go public, Red Hat said its portal is a significant part of its revenue plans.

Malda posted news of the acquisition on Slashdot this morning and within an hour and a half went into "overload mode"--meaning that more than 200 people had posted comments on the story. "That's really fast," Malda said.

"I was really concerned the community would lynch me," but most so far have been supportive, he said. His declaration that the original Slashdot team will govern the content reassured readers, he said. "There's a clause in the contract that says I'm in charge," he said.

Twickler also said Andover.Net will leave Slashdot content alone. "As long as they don't commit a felony, they have complete editorial control," he said. "We wanted it that way. We did not want to micromanage or tinker with a very successful formula."

Valuable real estate
Slashdot's lively, technically savvy community has made it valuable real estate on the Internet. In recent months, major companies such as Sun Microsystems have begun buying banner ads at the site.

Slashdot currently has about a million unique visitors a month, Twickler said, and he expects Web traffic to increase 25 to 33 percent in the next two months or so with better servers and other technological improvements.

Andover.Net currently has 35 employees, 12 of whom sell advertising. By the end of September, there will be 16 ad reps, at least some of them Slashdot specialists. Until now, Slashdot had only one person for the task.

Malda said he had discussed selling Slashdot with several companies, declining to state which, but indicating that top Linux sites such as VA Linux Systems or Red Hat weren't unlikely picks. "The most likely five or so" had contacted Slashdot, he said. With the increasing burden of running the site, "we realized up front it had to happen at some point."

The choice, Malda said, was either to seek venture capital or a big investor, or to sell the site and let somebody else take care of what for him is the mundane parts of the business. Slashdot chose the latter route.

"I'm going to do all the things that I like to do, and let them do the things I don't like to do," he said.

Slashdot's roots
Malda began Slashdot about two years ago while still a student at Hope College, from which he graduated last December. It's now run by him under the name CmdrTaco, Jeff "Hemos" Bates, and a handful of others who have become Andover.Net employees. A larger group of people around the world scour the Internet for interesting news, then post them on Slashdot in short, hyperlink-rich summaries to spark discussion.

Because of its large, active, and Internet-savvy readership, Slashdot's name has made its way into the Internet lexicon. When Slashdot posts a link to another Web site, the resulting surge in Internet traffic can be swamp and even cripple that site, a phenomenon known as "getting slashdotted."

The site also has popularized the term "Anonymous Coward," a self-explanatory term for those who aren't willing to have their names attached to their opinions.

Slashdot has grown to be a preferred haunt of fans of open-source software, a type of software in which the original programming instructions may be freely viewed, modified, used, and redistributed. Linux, a Unix-like operating system that underlies Slashdot and many other Web sites, is the best-known example of the open-source movement.

For various reasons, many in the open-source movement have led a charge against Microsoft, accusing the software giant of having inferior software and underhanded business methods.

Malda himself is more neutral on the subject. "I don't use any Microsoft software, so I don't really care that much," he said. When it comes to Linux, though, that neutrality vanishes.

Linux has conquered the server market, and desktop computers are next, he said. "That's become pretty apparent," he said, although many in the computing world would disagree.

In the longer term, the open-source movement will expand from operating systems to another Microsoft stronghold, desktop applications, he predicted.