Why I'm leaving Slashdot
tl;dr I quitted /. because it has little community value and fails its mission.
I'll start by saying that I stayed this long because, while /.-ers are awful, /. is great. The question was more about what positive elements had the institution that balanced the negative ones from the community. Of course, if I start by telling that I left because the cons were greater than the pros, I should clarify why I think so. In any case, the straw that broke the camel's back is today's article about SCOTUS and healthcare.
I said I like the institution and I truly do. First, news were, overall, relevant to its stated mission: "News for nerds, stuff that matters". This means, essentially, that news were oriented to technology, the digital/electronic world and science in general. The second part is a vow to promote relevant news. Relevant to whom? To anyone, of course! That's why the site run news from Australia, Rusia and even Argentina. Of course, the relevance issue won't ever be solved, but a priori there's no reason someone in Botswana or East Timor won't find these "nerd" news interesting. The article from SCOTUS and health care convinced me that it'll never achieve neither true global relevance nor geek relevance. I'm not talking about indirect relevance, which has saved many articles in the past, but irrelevance to anyone who isn't American. That's OK by the way: if 100% of editors are in the US, it's natural that news from the US are relevant, even if there's no technology involved. It's also OK when I say that /. runs news that sometimes don't matter.
Now, let's talk about the community. Actually, saying there's a community is an overstatement. eldavojohn, one of the best /.-ers I've read, stated something along those line a while ago. There's two kind of people here: (a) a few experts and (b) a lot of screamers with Bachelor in Everything. Most of the time, I could offset this mismatch by marking 5-point comments visible and <1-point invisible, but the last few months it mostly filtered group-think. Informative or interesting comments sometimes went through the wall, but not as much as I'd have liked. There's something else that's distasteful: the best way to gain karma and upgoats is to be one of the first to comment. As simple as that. This could easily be solved by a random, yet replicable, ordering of same-level comments, but there's no real interest in fixing this situation. It's a shame, because I submitted an article once and people wrote some nice, thoughtful comments on it. A lot of assholes were there, too, sadly. Of course, it's not about feelings but about how much effort can I devote to separate the chaff from the wheat. There may be a community, but it's being drowned in "-1: Overrated" for interesting comments and "+1:Insightful" for insulting ones.
So, I come to the conclusion that the site no longer offers me the kind of news I want. It also doesn't provide a community I can feel attached to. What to do? For the moment, I'll try Ars Technica. I'll get my international news from Al Jazeera and The Economist and Matt Strassler's blog will provide me with Physics news. Let's see how that works out!
The entertainment industry gets it, and that's the problem.
After following for a few years the modus operandi of RIAA and MPAA, and working on movies' DRM, I now understand why the industry gets it and how it acts. But I didn't feel inspired to write about it until I read these comments. My entry will apply only to movies, because I don't have the context or inside information for books or music.
Let's start with a basic statement: copying a movie and seeing it without paying to someone is bad. I'm not talking about a guy seeing the flick he bought with his friends (even if he totaled around 200 friends in different occasions), but the guy that downloads the movie. Let's just be practical: it's unsustainable. A producer puts money on it and expects at least to break even by charging people for seeing it. If everyone sees your movie without paying, and this behavior is generalized beyond a certain point, you can't recoup. So, even though it gets a lot of upvotes, we must agree that copyright provides a good incentive. It's not about freedom of speech: it's about an incentive to produce a creative work. Or, if you prefer it that way, copyright is indeed trumping on your freedom of speech, but you should come up with arguments that prove that freedom of speech is (a) always right and good, or at least (b) how it's good in this context.
This is not a defense of the current copyright durations: 20 years was enough in the twentieth century; I'd argue that sometimes is excessive today. I even noticed that, should the copyright duration after the death of the author extends just three years, Disney would have infringed Grimm's rights on his version of Snow White back in the 30's. I'm also not justifying these actions or the passing of abusive laws: I'm just defending the notions of copyright and that it should be enforceable.
I can summarize the way the movie industry deals with copyright violations today in a single phrase: "Put as many barriers as possible while we try to make money". There. This is based on a surprisingly simple fact: as a film gets older, its contribution to the cash flow gets smaller. This is not always so, especially with classics, but it works as a rule of thumb. The movie industry doesn't care for old flicks, because its main source of income is movies that have been out for less than a year. So, instead of fighting copyright infringements just for the sake of it, it's trying to delay the inevitable. Because, no matter how many times slashdotters say it, they *get it*. They aren't dinosaurs, and know this is fighting a losing battle: pirates are going to evaporate that income no matter what. What's important is to make it as hard as possible for pirates to do their thing, because profit is on that difference. They do what they can to close sites not because of an Orwellian notion of content, but because they want to profit as quickly as they can before piracy kicks them out of the equation. They put DRM schemes like AACS because they can remove pirate traitors from the system and continue publishing protected works in an easy way. The thing is, in this state of mind, there's no barrier ugly enough to be discarded, no action deemed too harsh, irrational or immoral. They are just deterrents that keep the money coming in, "the right thing to do" has nothing to do with it.
Here we are today, with the MPAA demanding batshit crazy laws and criminalizing everyone, and crazy people arguing that copyright should be abolished and institute a model in which artists live on donations because they shouldn't profit from their works' massive and instantaneous distribution. How do we get out of this crazy circle? To be honest, I don't know. I'd argue that returning to the 20-years rule of copyright, eliminating DRM, and turning infringement into a summary offense would help a lot, in part because it would change the attitude of all the parties. Something that would really help is truly payable fines (e.g. the total cost plus 25%, and you get to keep that copy) instead of suing for millions in damages: if paying is fast, cheap and convenient, suddenly it's much more enforceable. The producers can expect to receive money from both infringers and buyers, illegal distributors get penalized but not so heavily that they must go too underground, and users aren't guilty by default (the case with DRM). Even more, these changes would make illegal distributors a more interesting target than users. The only problem is how to find out about infringement. TPB would, in its current format, have some responsibility in this offense, but because it can produce a list of offenders, it can pay for their copies or direct the MPAA to them so it can still collect a few fines. As you can see, it's not polished enough
I don't know, maybe I'm hallucinating, but reality is too crazy as it is. Everyone "gets it", and that's making the problem bigger.