Larry Niven wrote a wonderful essay on the topic of teleportation, "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation." Later in 1973 Niven wrote a short story called "Flash Crowd" about the effects of teleportation on a society and published it in a collection of short story sci-fi pieces called The Flight of the Horse. Since then flash crowd has become one of those many wonderful Nivenism's given to us science fiction fans that have become a part of our intrinsic vernacular.
Most of the time in science fiction teleportation is pretty benign. For instance in Gene Roddenberry's quadrant of the cosmos it's simply used as a plot device to move the story along or save the day at the last minute. However in Niven's Universe he forecasts that one impact of low-priced teleportation would be vast multitudes of people materializing almost instantaneously at the location of headline making news reports. As a result a point would be reached where no one could transport out of the area as even more gawkers wanting to view the scene first hand blocked the transport booths. Nivenisms in the News explains that a "Flash Crowd" develops like this:
- Riot begins, more rioters transport in after seeing riot begin on the news, more news reporters transport in, every johnny-come-lately wanting a view of the riot transports in, every mad religious cultist wanting exposure transports in as well as looters who are coming in to take advantage of the overwhelming crowds.
In another narrative Larry Niven also had cheap teleportation units used as a sort of piecewise mass-transit system on the world inhabited by a space-faring race he invented, the Pierson's Puppeteers. Even earlier science fiction literature contains a number of examples of stories that are all about teleportation and its changes on society.
Predating Niven by two decades was well known science fiction author Alfred Bester who wrote Tiger, Tiger! in 1956 which was later re-titled The Stars My Destination (You didn't think Bester was that bad guy on Babylon 5 did you?) In his book he discusses teleportation from an individual point of view and makes a close inspection of the impact upon a society in which a great number of people can teleport themselves by mental effort. Even though not everyone has this ability Bester examines how this changes groups of societies. Known as jaunting, in one scenario houses have been built specifically to try and keep out teleporting criminals. These ne'er do well's also teleport around the world, staying under the cover of darkness. Other effects of this teleportation ability are messenger services established for instantaneous transport making transportation services obsolete, hence trains become collector's items for the idle rich. No doubt J. Michael Straczynski borrowed Bester's name and his tale for the telepathic social group he created on Babylon 5.
While novelist Bester's flash crowds arrived to pillage and plunder after a disaster Niven's were there to gawk and today two decades later the term has evolved on the cutting edge of the technological wave as the Slashdot effect. The expression shows a significant potential for entering every day usage not only on the Internet but the real world too. It's one which describes exponential spikes in website or server usage when one passes a certain threshold of popular interest or when flash crowds build up on Internet sites where the unexpected popularity and demand on the server is beyond its capabilities.
Some sources cite one associated phrase for the Slashdot Effect as a Denial of Service Attack or "A brute force attack designed to eat up available bandwidth or max out a piece of equipment's capabilities." However, most agree that since the Slashdot Effect is unintentional it is better described as a flash crowd.
Word Spy, a web site about up-and-coming words recently featured the phrase Slashdot effect. Paul McFedries describes his site as ".... devoted to recently coined words and phrases, old words that are being used in new ways, and existing words that have enjoyed a recent renaissance. These aren't "stunt words" or "sniglets," but new words and phrases that have appeared in newspapers, magazines, books, press releases, and Web sites." Word spy is a reasonably reliable Internet source with several citations from published periodicals. With regards to the Slashdot effect Paul McFedries explains his research so far:
- I've included a "First Use"* citation for this phrase, but I don't have much confidence in it because the phrase is preceded by the "so-called" qualifier. This tells me that the phrase was in use prior to July 28, 1998. I suspect the phrase was coined on Slashdot itself, so if some "Slashdotter" reads this and knows the true origin of the phrase Slashdot effect, I'd love to hear it.
( If you would care to contact Mr. McFedries his homepage is http://www.mcfedries.com/. You can find an email link from there.)
Mr. McFedries' research so far has revealed that the term came into general use during the latter half of the last decade of the 20th century. Five years ago and from the somewhat dubious source and "lighter side of Linux" in the Fake News department of humorix.org James Baughn proffered a shaggy dog story on July 26, 1998 called 'Slashdot Effect' Causes Havoc in Redmond
- The microsoft.com website was offline part of yesterday as a result of the so-called 'Slashdot Effect'. Yesterday morning, Rob Malda (aka CmdrTaco) posted an article on his Slashdot.org "News for Nerds" website. The article linked to a page on the Microsoft website that announced Windows NT 5.0 would probably be delayed until early 2001. Tens of thousands of nerds visited the page and brought the NT-based atbd.microsoft.com website to its knees.
Did Mr. Baughn know where his little pastiche on MS would lead? At the beginning of 1999 the turn of phrase first appeared in print in the February issue of a high tech rag called Wired Magazine a periodical that served as both 'Boswell and bomb thrower for the geekerati ', featuring an article written by Gareth Branwyn named "Jargon Watch"
- Slashdot Effect When a Web site is brought to its knees after being mentioned (and hyperlinked) on slashdot.org, the popular "News for Nerds" site. "The Forbes site fell victim to the slashdot effect after a story was posted about Linus Torvalds being on the cover."
Even though "it doesn't carry the swagger and prestige" it once did Wired is still in publication today but as fate and capitalism would have it what many hoped "would be a Trojan horse for revolution" was eventually sold in 1998 to the magazine corporation Conde Nast.
Shortly before the Wired article there had been a study and subsequent abstract published about the equipment overload effect by Stephen Adler titled The Slashdot Effect An Analysis of Three Internet Publications. In part Mr. Adler tells what happened, " (I) decided to dig thought my httpd access_log files in search of the /. effect, .....put on my experimentalist hat and wrote up a short paper, in scientific prose, to document it. Slashdot.org announced it on Feb 1st, 1999...... The /. effect article ... was so popular, that it had over 16,000 readers in under 48 hours." As a result Mr. Adler also did a follow up study Addendum to the Slashdot Effect Internet Paper. The original paper has some very interesting graphs and charts that illustrate the Slashdot effect. The URL is listed in the "Sources" at the bottom of this write-up if you would like to see them. He states that the purpose of the study was, " .... to document the existence of the Slashdot Effect and not to try and gauge which news web site has the predominant reader-ship." In his conclusions based upon the data gathered Mr. Adler noted:
- (T)he term Slashdot Effect has been referenced many times on sites around the Internet. With the publication of articles related to Linux and the Open Source movement, and the announcement of these articles to Linux related news web sites, one has a chance of documenting, in a controlled environment, this effect. The plots of the hit rate received by the hosting server clearly shows the existence of the Slashdot Effect. This effect varies in magnitude for different reasons. One reason being the interest of the readership in the content of the article being announced. Another reason being the form in which the article is announced. For example, the article titled "an Ode to Richard Stallman" was announced by Slashdot and Linux Today. Linux Today published the text of the article on their own web site, thus keeping many of the hits, by readers interested in this article, on their server. This strongly dampens the surge in hit rate to the system hosting the full article. On the other hand, Slashdot announced the article via a hyper link to the server hosting the full article and thus the local host received all the hits from Slashdot readers.
With such an impressive pedigree it looks like the phrase Slashdot effect may be headed into a permanent place in the parlance of the Internet and the worldwide community. I'm not sure what it means but this week there was some sort of 'priceless karma' and fifteen minutes of fame allotted to me by several of my son's friends because they discovered my notes about the Slashdot effect while researching this topic for E2. They had no idea the websites were related.
Since Slashdot and Everything2 are Kissing Cousins or maybe Crazy Uncles would be a better way to describe the friendly relationship between both sites, they have a great deal to share in common among their growing families. It's important to include the probable evolvement of this expression here as a key part of the relationships, not only as an etymological one, but also as a rather unique part of the historical record on E2.
In the beginnings of Everything1 and later on Everything2 most of the people that laid the foundations were a few of the creators, as well as, a number of regulars from Slashdot. From the fall of 1999 until the summer of 2000 when I asked a user how they found E2 on the web every single answer was "from Slashdot". Today more than half the users I ask will say they found it from Google, a friend showed it to them or name another source.
Maybe there are a few readers who are wondering what exactly is Slashdot. Well the web site is kind of hard to describe. Regulars will frequently use the symbol /. when referring to the website. That's a "forward slash" followed by a "period" on the keyboard for those like me who are slow on the uptake. Gee willikers! It was months before I got that aha! moment. While I don't have an account there, I do visit and read up on technological discussions that interest me. I think it's a very reliable source, for example I was interested in what was being said by the Internet community about the RIAA. If you're interested in paying them a visit you can point your browser to:
I have a friend who exclaims "I read /. at least five times a day!" I can certainly see why he enjoys it so much. It's quite a unique website and very popular. One source says there are over five million visitors daily. Described as a "microcosm of hacker culture" each day several links are posted about news items, stories or other things of interest to the readers there. According to one description the articles that are most 'frequently submitted by hackers' are the ones posted by the Slashdot editors in a venue that allows a moderated discussion. For a great number of die-hard fans it is the dialogue that is more essential than the story piece itself. Along with the extremely decentralized moderation structure, together with an exceptionally customizable site presentation that helps to "control the sheer size of comments and stories.... In some ways Slashdot's structure is... decentralized, with stress on the individual; toned-down style; obsessively configurable."
With millions of visitors a day, postings of stories can cause the server that holds the "target link to crash from sheer volume." This is called "the Slashdot effect" and pronounced SLASH.dawt uh.fekt. The noun phrase is defined by Word Spy as:
- A sharp and often overwhelming increase in a Web site's traffic, particularly after the site is featured on Slashdot.org. Also: /. Effect.
"That site has been slashdotted again!" While a Slashdotter is a noun, as in a person who regularly reads and comments at Slashdot, a related turn of phrase that is used frequently in conjunction with Slashdot effect as a verb is "Slashdotted." The word is widely used by Slashdotters. If a person declares he or she is being Slashdotted that means their website is in effect inaccessible since too many people are hitting it after the website was referred to in an article and following commentary on Slashdot.
Mr. McFedries' cites a highly regarded source that discusses the phrase surrounding this effect when it was published in June 2002 in Technology Review "MIT's magazine of innovation" that "is at the center of the conversation on emerging technologies":
- While Rob-don't call him Robert-Malda may fit the irreverent hacker stereotype, his finest hack does not. Malda is founder of Holland, MI-based Slashdot, a Web site cum online community cum Internet Zeitgeistmeter visited by more than 250,000 surfers daily. What started in 1997 as an online hangout for Malda's cronies to trade banter on geek subjects is now "the number one site for tech news and geek ranting," according to the Washington Post. Contributors recommend news items to Slashdot, where Malda and his small staff create links to the stories and write introductory paragraphs. Readers post comments, which are then graded by other readers. Many times, Web sites whose addresses are cited experience the "Slashdot effect"-an increase in traffic so sharp that their operations sometimes halt.
Yow! there was a Summer of 2002 flashback of cooking dinner while listening to Geeks in Space when I read that! The Slashdot effect continues to hold onto its movement from the Internet to the real world of publications, especially as one of the modern day defining moments. As recently as last month on June 13th 2003 columnists David Joachim and Brad Shimmin who are "longtime networking professionals providing unique perspectives on critical topics and trends" penned in their periodical Network Computing an article titled Thanks (for Nothing), Slashdot:
- As publishers, we long for those times when Internet fate smiles upon us, bestowing a mention on slashdot.org, an act that usually precipitates a favorable influx of traffic known lovingly as the "slashdot effect."
Sources:The Word Spy
Accessed Jul 27 2003