February 13, 2002

Build your own Slashdot-like site with O'Reilly's 'Running Weblogs with Slash'

Author: JT Smith

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."

Additional Resources:
An article by coauthor chromatic, "Slash's Wiki Plugin" can be found
at: http://www.onlamp.com/pub/a/onlamp/2002/01/17/slash_plugin.html

Chapter 4, "Editing and Updating Stories" is available free online at:
http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/runblogslash/chapter/ch04.html

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