(A Few) Words on Slashdot Submissions
I want to have my name in lights, or a facsimile thereof.
(this page last modified 20040525 from Seattle)
We get asked quite a bit about why particular submissions didn't run on Slashdot. Rob (CmdrTaco) gives a concise answer to the question of why a given story
didn't run in the Slashdot
FAQ -- in fact, go read the FAQ, and then come back here :)
This document is a slightly more drawn-out attempt to explain how we look at the (many) submissions which enter the bin each day. This document will tell you what we look for, so if you'd like to have a submission posted, you may find reading what follows worthwhile.
Note: though this looks at submissions as though they were all divided into two idealized categories ("perfect" and "horrible"), the truth is that most submissions fall somewhere between those two extremes. You may notice that the descriptions of the qualities of a perfect submission are shorter than those of the horrible submission. That's because for a perfect submission, those good
qualities tend to be more self-evident. Submitters whose efforts
rank in the horrible range, though, may not realize quite why they don't get posted, so I've tried to include some tips.
The closer a submission is to featuring all the "perfect" characteristics, the better the chances are that it will run. And of course, the more "horrible" points it's got, the lower those chances get. While we
will sometimes tweak submitters' grammar, spelling and punctuation,
attempt to fix broken links, and even edit with brackets and ellipses
(in the interest of brevity, clarity and good taste), the nicer a
submission starts out, the less tempted we are to hit "delete."
Note: The URLs used as examples within the remainder of this document do not (I hope) reach any actual sites. They are used strictly to demonstrate the emergency site-not-found features of your browser.
What makes a perfect Slashdot submission?
A perfect Slashdot submission should make you want to cry, it is so good.
A perfect Slashdot submission is ...
- interesting: A major change in laws that affect you, a new hard drive which lowers 10-fold the price-per-megabtye on an affordable drive, a step-by-step description (with diagrams and part numbers) of how you turned your living room wall into a computer-controlled waterfall display including 10,000 LEDs -- these are interesting. For more on what's *not* interesting (to Slashdot), please see "How to be Boring," below.
- informative: New information is better than old, but
the real aim is that it be information that most people would not
have known prior to reading it. Since most of the stories are the Slashdot
main page were contributed by readers who spotted them on some other
site, they are by definition not new to everyone.
- Submitted under the appropriate section and topic:
Self-evident, one would think, but we get some weird combinations. It's always safe to use "Articles" as your section and "News" as your topic, but if you take a minute to glance through all the topic categories available, you might find the perfect descriptor. Note that a few of them, like Privacy, aren't listed as alphabetically as you might expect.
- text- and still-image-based: The best submissions link to interesting pages around the Net which an ordinary modem user with an Open Source browser can enjoy. Supporting the efforts of web designers
who create clean, quick-loading pages will make it much easier to get your submission posted.
- labeled with an understandable, concise headline:
"Machine Finally Wins MIT's Annual Man-Machine Trials" is one
such. Hint: 6-10 words is the magic headline range!
- clear: That means acronyms you suspect might not be widely shared are spelled out, you use the full names of anyone less famous (in context) than Linus, Richard and Larry, and give some sort of context for readers who aren't familiar with the specific area you may know quite a bit about.
(That means not just according to the Weekly World
News.) Credibility in a world of instant communications, ambiguous announcements, media-spinning PR flacks, snickering jokesters and malicious perverts is tough to come by, and sometimes uncredible reports are just as interesting as more credible ones, if only for the debunking
they generate. But generally, linking to a report by a respected media source is a leg up in getting a submission published on Slashdot -- better yet, links to several.
Though some things take more than a hundred words to
adequately discuss, you'll notice that most stories on the main page aren't much longer than that. If you're interested in writing a feature, a book review, or other longer piece, please contact us! There are additional guidelines for Slashdot features you might find useful.
A submission with hyperlinks chosen and placed intelligently, to
working URLs, is leaps and bounds closer to hitting the front page. By chosen intelligently, I mean that appropriate items are linked to (specific documents are better than vague front pages, for instance), and by placed intelligently I mean that the words which are hyperlinked make sense to identify the items they are linked to. For instance, in this hypothetical snippet:
"there is a short interview with Snert
about his involvement
with Impeccable Action Games, which touches also on the creation of
his role in the first Arkansas Widget Spitting
the hyperlinks are around words which form a short but workable
description of what those links will bring up. Hyperlinks should
generally be around as few words as still make a nice
description, but not so few that the meaning is lost.
Aim for correct grammar and spelling, but don't fret about it, lest you fret alone. Think meaning and clarity.
Here's an example of a (totally hypothetical) submission that would be
likely to run if it were not totally hypothetical:
writes: "Thought I'd drop a note about the human-powered
computer that my high
school's Physics Club
conjured up to compete in the upcoming ALSO (Another Loony Science Organization)
annual competition in
innovative computer systems. With a budget of under $300, we managed to
fashion a pedal-powered rig sufficient to power a 486 laptop for 15
minutes at a stretch with an equal time spent pedaling, much longer with a
assist. (The laptop, used, is where most of our budget went, but
at least it has 64MB of RAM.) So far this is just a sit-in-place rig, but
we hope to take it mobile like Steven Roberts' famous Behemoth, and
perhaps add a webcam."
How to be Boring
- Call attention to the boringness of your submission by labeling it derisively. "Ho,hum, yet another bug in program X ..." or "I'm probably the millionth person to submit this, but ..." A written-out "sigh" is also sufficient to express the depth of your boredom.
- Point out an inescapable path of action which you are merely following. If a program or security patch appears, remind others to immediately download it, or merely say "you know the drill," because they too are trapped in a one-path universe. "So go grab it ... sigh." works well, too.
- Express surprise that your submission or a similar one has not yet appeared. (Most Slashdot stories are reader submitted; if you didn't send it in, don't be surprised that no one else has.)
- Leave out any background that might help people understand the context of your submission. Assume that all readers share your interests, opinions and media choices.
- Make your links context-dependent and if possible inexplicable. Good words to link on for maximum boringness (a partial list):
- "link" (or "(link)")
- Avoid complete sentences, because they're less likely to as boring as disconnected fragments.
What makes a horrible Slashdot submission?
A horrible Slashdot submission would make you want to cry, it is so bad.
A horrible Slashdot submission is ...
- Written in a language other than English, with no translation or commentary provided. "Glorpinsky driumb ay Sloortespork deprancojibyllsko."
- inexplicably submitted under an inappropriate section or
topic: This may just be the result of a slipped mouse, or it may
be because the submitter doesn't realize that "Geeks In Space" is an occasional audio broadcast of words and other noises by Hemos, CmdrTaco, CowboyNeal and others.
- dependent on plug-ins, proprietary OSes or a high-speed
connection: If a reader (or, more to the point) an editor on a
medium-grade modem connection and using an open-source OS can't easily
partake of the goods you link to, it probably won't be posted on Slashdot.
Sorenson codec QuickTime movies? Java that crashes Mozilla and Netscape?
Windows-only video format? Slow-loading Flash intros? Unfriendly
things rarely show up on Slashdot (and especially without some alternative
text-based links) is that they're either inaccessable or too painful for
most readers. On the other hand, sometimes those big-bandwidth playthings
make great great supporting links to accompany things that are more
universally reachable. (Can you link to a text transcript of your
streaming-audio conversation between Linus Torvalds and Bill Gates? You've
just raised the odds from darn-near-zero to something higher.) We like
people to be able to see what you're linking to :)
- submitted with no headline or with a headline too short, too
long, or too badly worded: Remember that in a list of headlines
from 50 submissions, the one that says nothing but "INTERESTING ITEM" is
unlikely to draw much interest from your humble editors, and neither is
one that wanders hazily past the displayed-character limit without
reaching a head.
- anonymous, with no contact information: While
readers are free to submit anonymously (and in some cases it may make a
lot of sense!), I advise against it unless you have a legitimate fear of
reprisal or genuine hatred of having your Slashdot userid exposed to the
world. If you submit an intriguing story but happen to have mistyped a
URL, for instance, we can email you and perhaps get it fixed and posted --
if you let us. I wish we could guarantee that service, but on the other
hand, look at it this way: we can guarantee not to contact you if you don't leave an e-mail adress or other contact information.
Note that this is particularly true for Ask Slashdot questions; we
send responses to many of
these questions even if they never get posted on the page, but if you include no contact information, we can't even do that.
- uninformative: Most frequently, this involves stories which may even sound interesting but are incomplete. Rumors with
no substantiation, vague references to "the usual web sites" but not actual links to the ones you mean, rhetorical questions not adorned with additional or interesting answers, submission content along the lines of "SEE HEADLINE!!", and perhaps worst of all, any submission consisting of
nothing more than an (unexplained) URL -- all these are good ways to drastically lower your odds of appearing on the front page.
full of unnecessary html:
This seems to usually involve the "b" and "pr" tags especially, and indicates that the submitter didn't preview the submission very well. The submission engine automatically adds quotemarks to submitted text, and makes the text italic (the way it appears on the front page), so submitters don't have to do those things. Adding extra paragraph markers
at the beginning and end of a submission's text is not helpful -- in fact, just the opposite. It creates extra hand-work and thus lowers a submission's chances of running.
The non-secret is this: use html to separate legitimate paragraphs and to denote links, and sparingly for anything else. Gratuitous "bold" tags can usually be replaced with a few well chosen italic tags instead.
- insipid: Bill Gates' teenaged mug shot is funny (at least if you find that sort of thing funny) the first time you see it. It's not as funny the second. After a while, it's not funny at all. If
your submission appeals primarily to a reader's prurient interest, or has
been floating around the Net drawing forehead slaps and groans since time began, we don't want to post it. Likewise with notices that the East Podunk Library's home page (or some other more famous one) has been vandalized.
hard to believe:
Stories of the hard-to-believe variety involve various conspiracy theories, reports of the melding by insane bioengineers of various species which require different radically living environments, and links to Free software written by Jack Valenti.
If you ramble, switch topics without explanation, use innuendo
or jargon such that your submission is bewildering, or are generally incoherent, your submission would require rephrasing by human editors who would like to eat lunch. The more smoothly you can describe what you're talking about, the more likely you are to hook editors (and then readers).
unlinked, poorly linked, or misleadingly linked:
There are two frequent types of innocent but poor linking which lower a submission's chance of running. The first is what I call "The Extremely Redundant URL That Says The Same Thing More Than Once." It looks like
While that kind of URL is informative in one sense (it certainly provides the information you need to find the document referenced by that URL), it is unfortunately uninformative in another way: unless you happen to have memorized that URL on a previous occasion, it doesn't help to know its exact title as much as it would to have some idea of what the link
Plus, it's ugly. Would you name your daughter
"ourdaughterethelwhoisourdaughter"? No. Treat your links the same way.
The second type of poor linking is what I'll call "the shy link." Here's
"I recently spent a few hours chatting with my cousin, who
works as a Windows programmer (mostly Java) for a home-automation company.
He pointed to
this very interesting collection of bugs which he and his coworkers
gathered while coding interacting modules which rely on obscure
Windows programming calls. Some of
them are quite large.
However, not all of them have yet been identified by local entomologists;
the big stripy one is quite baffling to those we've asked. Can anyone
provide a Latin name?"
Note how the link is to a word which conveys little about what the link
points to. Bad, bad. (Oh, and I slipped in another problem as well --
the same hyperlink is applied to two ambiguous words. Once per
hyperlink per submission is plenty, even if they're well-linked! :)
- elaborately or eccentrically punctuated: While we
don't have a stiff-upper-lip quota to fill, if your submission is
punctuated as if by cats pretending to be illiterate, it becomes less fun
Common sense will probably reveal why the Slashdot page does not
feature as many rage-filled rants as the submissions queue does. Take deep
breaths; if you're angry about something, calm writing is usually more
effective than emotional spew. After a certain number of dirty words or
threatened acts of violence, the delete key practically jumps down of
its own accord.
Hard as it may be to believe, there are quite a few submissions each day
which meet most if not all of these qualifications.
Here's an example of a (totally hypothetical) submission that would be
unlikely to run even if it were not totally hypothetical:
Anonymous writes: "
Lissen up you st00pid [expletive,
a new Beta of my favroite game out, it runs on windows (not
"WINDOZE"!!!) and bill gates is probably buying
so it will be everywhere even Walmartunlike your LINUX [expletive,
foolz!! so why don't you post it? I submitted
this yesterday and it never ran why not are you afraid?
Everyone knows that games are the real reason that anyone buys all
these computer toys and games on LINUX suck donkeyparts!!! Just cause you
can't program worth a [expletive] you want to tear down the
real innovators that makes games and OS'es for real people, not
pie and the sky dreamers like you all are. What about games that run on
your precious LINUX systmes which you persist in calling 'boxen' like
idiotic [expletive, pl.]?! No, coz X Windows is a total copy of
only really stable OS yet for real people with an investment in
games all ready.
here's my favroite picture
of you [expletive, plural]!!! Die!