Interview: Mad Penguin’s Adam Doxtater


Author: Gabriel Knight

Mad Penguin is a phenomenon. To those who frequent it, it’s a way of life, an attitude, a religion. For the man who created it, it’s both a vision of the future and an emotional outlet.

Adam Doxtater, a 32-year-old New Yorker living in Las Vegas, is the creative force behind Mad Penguin, a site that soared from zero to one of the top 100,000 sites on the Internet in its first year. The site services between 9,000 and 22,000 unique readers per day. Mad Penguin provides original software reviews, tutorials, and commentary on the state of Linux. The site is always changing; even when the forums are slow, the content keeps flowing.

The man who co-founded Mad Penguin in January 2003 is someone who might more closely resemble a rock star than a computer professional. He’s a recorded musician who comes complete with the raw attitude and self-assured swagger of a man who’s knows what he wants from life and is getting it one way or another.

NewsForge: How did you get involved with Linux?

Adam Doxtater: I was introduced to it several years ago — back in 1997 if I remember correctly. I do remember it was Red Hat 6, and to be completely honest I hated it. All I can remember thinking was “Damn! I have to edit a text file to get this frigging <insert device> working!?” Looking back it was all pretty trivial, but look where I was coming from. Here I am living in Noodlebrain Land and then jump into a world where I actually have to think? Come on. Later I tried Linux again (SUSE 8.1) and this time completely fell in love with it.

Since then, I’ve been involved in the community in one form or another. I don’t really code, but wrote a snippet of code for the OSS sound architecture to allow it to run properly on Gentoo Linux. Other than that, I’ve donated money to organizations that I felt had a good thing going, and I launched Mad Penguin. It’s my way of giving back to the community in some way. I am hoping that by getting the word about Linux out there, and helping people who need it, I am doing a bit of good in the world. Mad Penguin is my emotional outlet as well. I get things off my chest there, which I get criticized for in most cases, but you know what? It’s my opinion. If you don’t like it, too fucking bad. If you don’t care for the television show that’s being broadcast, turn the channel.

Adam Doxtater of Mad Penguin.

NF: Has it been difficult to get going?

AD: Well, it depends on which way you look at it. On one hand, yes, it took tremendous effort to get to the point we’re at now — lots of late nights involved in that project, and I think it really shows both from creative and functional standpoints. The thing to keep in mind when working on a project like this is that it never ends. Too many people start Web sites thinking they can just put them there and people will come. This isn’t the case at all.

NF: What makes Mad Penguin tick?

AD: This may sound like a really canned answer, but it’s not. Our readers are what makes us tick. Sure, there is a huge amount of dedication to the project from the administrative/creative side, but it all comes down to our readers. We pride ourselves on not only having thousands of unique visitors per day, but on the fact that we also receive many bookmarked visits. People are coming back. It’s really a community effort. No matter how many nights we stay up until the wee hours coming up with something crazy to do it doesn’t amount to much if people don’t approve. We take in a lot of feedback from our visitors.

NF: And how does that relate to Linux?

AD: We’ve created something that has formed a legitimate community of great people. If Linux, and Mad Penguin, is the one thing that can bind people of differing backgrounds, religion, or political views, then I want to be the one helping to tie the knot. Linux and open source as a whole promote many of the finer qualities we all have: leadership, motivation, teamwork, and charity without the promise of monetary other other material gain.

NF: Were there any others who might have been instrumental in your success?

AD: Sure, there are many. We’ve had tremendous interest and support from many of the Linux distributions small and large, open source software developers, and we can’t forget the numerous sites that have either linked to us or promoted us in some way. There are so many I can’t keep track of them. I’ve made some really strong allies and friends along the way. Ladislav from DistroWatch comes to mind. He’s one hell of a guy. I’ve also got to credit those individuals who’ve come on board as staff members. Of course there was James [Hunter -– co-founder of Mad Penguin] from the very beginning. Without him, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking right now. Ewdison Then of NeLogic, (also founder of has been there from the very early days of the project. He’s another individual I owe everything to for his dedication.

NF: How does a site like Mad Penguin acquire staffing?

AD: It’s actually an amazing thing. The short answer is that the staff comes to me. For the most part people seem to just want to be a part of it all. But that’s open source, right? Much of what you see today was directly contributed by our readers through suggestion. Mad Penguin essentially has a core cast, if you will, and they keep it going. Fred Blaise is one of the people who simply lived and breathed Mad Penguin. He’s my right-hand man. Then there’s Narayan Newton, another devoted Mad Penguin member turned sysadmin. He’s been our FreeBSD guru since we’ve moved over to the new system.

NF: So have you met all of the people you work with on Mad Penguin?

AD: Personally? In person? God no! I’m a recluse! I can’t even go to Wal-Mart without being sedated! Actually I’ve met Fred, Narayan, James (of course), and another member from the site named Grigg.

NF: Anything new on the horizon for you or Mad Penguin?

AD: With the new year we’ll try to spice things up a bit. I’ve been tossing around site design ideas with Ewdi, and we’ve got some excellent mockups. It won’t be as drastic as it was when we did it a year and a half ago or so. It will be more subtle. Mad Penguin has a look; people know it by sight. It’s a branding and I don’t want to take that away since I feel it’s a strong point for us. We’ve built a brand identity with our readers. The redesign will just put a slight facelift on the site, and will bring it up to speed. It’ll be more modern looking and will sport more efficient use of real estate.

NF: Any new features?

AD: It’s really hard to say what will come, but I can guarantee you that we’ll be adding new things this coming year. I like to keep the site as fresh as possible and that requires new concepts and ideas to be applied most of the time. Other than that, I’m working on my third CD and am drafting a book proposal for a desktop Linux book that will target people who would normally never know what Linux was or how to begin using it. I want to reach those people and make it simple for them. The book will include a live Linux CD, and I’ve chosen one of the most influential Linux gurus on the planet to build it for me. If the deal goes through, I’ll be posting more about it at that time. As you may know, I’ve co-authored other technical books.

NF: Are there any comical things that have happened on the site that you wouldn’t mind sharing?

AD: You mean that are fit to print? As a matter of fact, we were laughing about some of this stuff the other day. We considered making a quotes page of all the off-color and funny things people have done and said on the site.

Here’s one for you. We had published a review of — SUSE I think it was — anyway, there was some jerkoff that kept posting derogatory shit on the review and it was totally unwarranted. We blocked his IP address after he’d been warned several times. After a short while he came back with a different address touting that he could use any one of several thousand addresses. I don’t go for that kind of shit at all, so I checked the origin of both IPs he used, traced them both back to Deutsch Telecom, and closed the Mad Penguin servers their entire IP block. That shut him up pretty quickly! Since that day it’s been kind of a running joke in the Mad Penguin camp. Why ban one person when you can ban him and his entire continent to prove your point? Kind of sums up the Mad Penguin philosophy doesn’t it? Why do it big if you can do it bigger and with dancing monkeys?


  • Linux