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Build Your Own Wildly Successful Slashdot-Like Site with O'Reilly's Running Weblogs with Slash

February 12, 2002

Sebastopol, CA--Visionaries have the ability to draw pieces together to reveal a broader vista than we might otherwise be able to see, but they are usually not the force for change that creates the vision. Invention itself is the work of one or more individuals who pause to look at the pieces of a puzzle and ask, "Hey, what if?" Slash, the open source software that drives the popular Slashdot.org site, evolved as the Slashdot creators asked this question while their site took shape: "What if you could build a program to manage a web site, where people could organize and create things through a browser instead of HTML editors and FTP clients? What if you let readers publish their thoughts, and comment on stories and on the comments of other users?" Slashdot has subsequently triggered a revolution of its own, drawing hundreds of thousands of users and dozens of imitators. In O'Reilly's just-released book, Running Weblogs with Slash (US $34.95) coauthors chromatic, Brian Aker, and Dave Krieger show readers how to make this popular, powerful, and free system work for their own sites.

"Every day, more and more people buy computers, discover the Internet, and realize that they have stories to tell," says coauthor chromatic. "Some of them have business interests. Some are fans of a sport, an author, a television show, or an operating system. Some will find conversations to join, while other will either create them or go without. Slash is one of the many tools to help people talk to each other. In my opinion, it's easily the most powerful and flexible free software program out there today."

Slash, which stands for the "Slashdot Like Automated Storytelling Homepage" is much more than just a weblog. It separates presentation from content, has a database abstraction layer, performs powerful caching, hooks directly into the Apache web server, and, according to the authors, can be extended to do just about anything a web application can do. And, in the true spirit of open source software, it can be downloaded for free and modified as desired.

"As more people use Slash and learn its features, they'll start to have wild ideas that can be translated into code. Someone will say, 'Wouldn't it be great if' and he'll program it himself or keep bugging other people enough until it's accomplished," explains chromatic. "Norbert Kuemin thought a printable mode for stories would be nice, and he wrote it, and I ported it to Slash 2.x, and it's in the book as an example. Brian liked the idea of user journals, wrote the Journal plugin, and it's been extremely popular on the Use Perl web site (http://use.perl.org/). Conceptually, both are pretty similar to the news format of Slashdot, but each new idea gets further away from Slash's beginnings."

chromatic adds, "It's a flexible system. The architecture continues to improve. I fully expect someone to do something really wacky with it in the near future. The rest of us will scratch our heads and say, 'That's funny. Why didn't we think of that?' That's how progress is made."

Running Weblogs with Slash covers Slash from theory to customization. Targeted at site administrators and content managers, it is designed for people who want to run a medium-to-large weblog but have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through the voluminous source code. The book teaches how to install and configure the software and covers common setups. Readers will learn how to publish Stories, create community guidelines, and even modify the underlying code. Written by users and developers, this book is also officially blessed by the people behind Slash and Slashdot.

"Weblogs and community driven websites in general have only grown since the bubble burst and the carpetbaggers fled the scene," says coauthor Aker of Slash's role on the Internet. "Slash is a very scalable system that is an enterprise level piece of software. It's great to see it put in place by communities who have something to say but not the budget to buy the software needed to make their voice heard."

"Over and over again, I've seen a small site go with homegrown software or some knock-off of Slash," Aker adds. "As soon as they either have real traffic coming into their site or find themselves being attacked by malicious users, they find they don't have the tools to keep their sites running. This is often true of corporate sites as well. Since Slash is used to run Slashdot, it is constantly being updated to run securely against the latest attacks and has led the innovation for community sites for sometime in how to keep the signal higher in the signal-to-noise ratio. Slashdot showed off exactly how well Slash can scale during 9-11 by being one of the few sites capable of taking the sudden surge in traffic."

Running Weblogs with Slash was written for anyone who wants to get a weblog up and running. As Rob Malda, creator of Slash, writes in the foreword, "Hopefully, what we've learned over the years will make it easier for you to tell your story."

Online Resources:

Running Weblogs with Slash
By chromatic, Brian Aker, and Dave Krieger
February 2002
ISBN 0-596-00100-2, 262 pages, $34.95 (US), $52.95 (CAN)

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