Logged in users have noticed for some time the request to drink from the Slashdot Firehose. Well now we're ready to start having everybody test it out. It's partially a collaborative news system, partially a redesigned & dynamic next-generation Slashdot index. It's got a lot of really cool features, and a lot of equally annoying new problems for us to find and fix for the next few weeks. I've attached a rough draft of the FAQ to the end of this article. A quick read of it will probably answer most questions from how it works, what all the color codes mean, to what we intend to do with it.
The Slashdot Firehose is a way for you to participate in the Slashdot editorial process. You are able to see all the content submitted to Slashdot: from RSS Feeds and user submissions, to journal entries and successful completed Slashdot stories.
You can participate by voting on these entries: click the minus icon if you don't think the story is great for Slashdot, and click the plus if you do. Better yet, when you make these choices you can help further refine your decision by clarifying why you made the choice you did. You can tell us if a story was binspam, or a dupe, or insightful. If you don't like the options provided in the pop-up windows, you can always open the tagging box and provide whatever tags you think will help Slashdot Editors, and other Slashdot Readers make informed decisions about the content they are reading.
The Firehose has all data on Slashdot. RSS Feeds. Journal Entries. Story Submissions. And of course, accepted Slashdot Stories. The idea is that this view of Slashdot can provide you a single place to view all Slashdot content in one interface.
If you don't like any particular data type, you can filter it out. If you don't like journals, you can just filter on -journal and they are gone. If you don't want Slashdot stories, -story will get you there.
You will note a variety of interesting options that allow you to control how this page is displayed. For example, if you filter on 'story' and set 'expand top rated' you will see a page that is very similar to Slashdot's main page today... except that it dynamically updates and allows voting and in-place expansion of sectional content. Alternatively, filtering to -story and toggling 'abbreviated mode' will let you see a real-time stream of reader contributions. It's really up to you
The spectrum of colors represents an overall quality rating for content. Red is the most popular, the highest rated, and hopefully the best content on Slashdot. There is relatively little Red content, although most stories we post default to red. Some stories show up as orange. As you work down the spectrum you will find more content. Default submissions to the Firehose start at blue. At indigo you will find a number of RSS feeds and journal entries. At violet you are probably wasting your time, and at black you definitely are!
Play with the color slider to find the level you enjoy reading most at. Use Red or Orange for busy days or if you are a casual reader. The lower you pull the slider, the more content you will see.
The Firehose is usable in 3 "Modes". In "latest content" mode you are looking at the last few days of Slashdot content. Display is optimized for you to easily navigate within this small bit of time. In 'Day Of' mode you will see content only from (surprise) any day you specify in the calender. Finally in 'Search Archive' mode you will search the entire database. For now, this goes back only perhaps 6 months but eventually we think this can replace our existing search infrastructure.
We've found that we like to use the firehose in a number of different ways. Sometimes I want a casual view of Slashdot, and other times i want to see more stories. Sometimes I want to see only the stories I've tagged. Other times I just want to see Journals. Well, shockingly enough, each tab will remember your settings and allow you to quickly return to them later.
If you change your settings, you do so in an 'Untitled' tab. If you click on your tab, you can name it which will save it for later. Also, you can subscribe to an RSS feed for any particular tab if that's your cup of tea. Please keep in mind that we have a robots.txt file that restricts the rate that you refresh pages. I'd suggest a 30 minute minimum.
Currently we work great under Firefox 1.5 and 2.0, as well as Safari. IE7 is functional but has glitches that we are working to fix. The iPhone functions as well with a number of optimizations for small screens (although the bandwidth requirements are still fairly steep so you are probably better off on a WiFi connection for now)
IE6 is known to be broken. Other browsers might work, but we haven't really tested them.
Slashdot is a complex beast with readers with a wide variety of interests. Part of the job of Slashdot Editor is to create a website that is interesting to all of us. That means that sometimes our opinions may differ from yours. We use the voting in the Firehose as an indicator of value, but not as the definitive measure of if something is a Slashdot story.
If you don't like that, you can simply remove our Slashdot stories by putting -story in your filter. The firehose you read will be then be completely reader driven. We believe that the way we've built this system can appeal to the wide variety of Slashdot readers without compromising the story quality for our core audience.
Well first of all, we're happy to use good ideas when we see them. Countless websites have knocked off our cool ideas, just like we joyously took ideas from those that came before us. But ultimately the idea here is not to imitate any other social network news site. We feel that the editorial layer that exists on top of Slashdot is important. But we also think that having many eyeballs will help us more efficiently sort through the ever increasing volume of content on this here internet of ours. That's why we'll aim to strike a balance. Slashdot stories will continue to be posted by our editors. We will use the advice given to us by our readers. Sometimes we will agree, and other times we won't. You are welcome to read more or less editor content depending on your tastes.
At the end of the day, striking a balance between the wisdom of crowds and the tyranny of mobs is a difficult one. It's also a personal one: some people might regard it as having a moral component. Others may just want to read a bunch of good stories no matter what the methodology. We're hoping that we can strike a balance that will work for everyone. Your feedback can only improve the system for everyone.