Founder of Slashdot
Born May 10, 1976, in Holland, Michigan; son of Bob and Nancy Malda; married Kathleen Fent, c. 2002. Education: Earned degree from Hope College, c. 1997.
Addresses: Home—Michigan. Office—c/o Open Source Technology Group, 46939 Bayside Pkwy., Fremont, CA 94538. Website—http://www.slashdot.org.
Worked as a freelance computer programmer while in high school; with R. R. Donnelly Co. as computer-tech specialist, and The Image Group as a Web-page designer, both mid-1990s; founded Slashdot.org, 1997.
Rob Malda founded the Web site Slashdot as an information-resource site for self-styled "technology geeks" like himself. With its innovative comment feature and constantly updated links to other sites, Malda's creation, which went online in September of 1997, is considered one of the forerunners of the blog movement. It was eventually bought out by a succession of larger companies, and registered its one millionth member in 2006. "I still think of it as my personal soapbox," Malda told New York Times reporter John Schwartz. "If I decide next Thursday that 'It's all about Windows!' I don't know if Slash-dot would follow that—but I would keep posting it and posting it until they fire me."
Born in 1976, Malda grew up in the western Michigan community of Holland. For 14 years, from preschool to high school, he attended a private Christian school, before moving on to Hope College, also in western Michigan and a Christian-oriented institution, to study computer science. He had been intensely interested in personal computers at an early age, and wrote on his personal Web page, CmdrTaco, that "my mother's favored punishment was to disconnect my keyboard and lock it in her trunk. Since this was the days of DOS, I just added a keyboard error code check to my autoexec.bat file which launched a BBS so I could simply get at my data from a friend's house."
Not surprisingly for someone with such impressive skills, Malda began landing computer-programming jobs while still in high school, and during his college years worked for a Web design firm. In 1997, he flew to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a job interview with Red Hat, the open-source software company that was an early pioneer in the Linux operating system code. He had been told to phone a Red Hat associate at the airport, who would come to pick him up and take him to the office for the interview, but Malda had forgotten to take his Palm Pilot personal digital assistant in which the contact telephone number was stored; unable to come up another way of notifying Red Hat, he sat in the airport until it was time for his return flight home.
A few months later, Malda launched the forerunner of what became Slashdot on his personal Web page. As he explained to Lev Grossman of Time magazine, he had been trolling the Internet for a "site that mixed the latest word about a new sci-fi movie with news about open-source software. I was looking for a site that didn't exist, so I built it." Slashdot officially went online in September of 1997, taking its name from the punctuation marks commonly used in the URLS, or Uniform Resource Locators, that serve as Web addresses; Malda and a high school friend who had joined him on the project, Jeff Bates, thought the name would be confusing for anyone who tried to spell the entire URL out loud, "h-t-t-p-colon-slash-slash-slash-dot-dot-org."
Slashdot was a technology information site that billed itself as "news for nerds," and posted links to articles on the Web that ranged from the serious to the absurd. It tracked new product launches, but also ran a memorable story about two fans of Star Wars movies who burned themselves while playing with their homemade light sabers. Anyone could submit a link to an article, which Malda, Bates, or the other Slashdot editors would then vet; each story then had a user forum attached, where Slash-dot members could post commentary. Malda's own screen name was CmdrTaco, short for "Commander Taco," which was borrowed from a book by humorist Dave Barry.
Malda's brainchild quickly became a must-read for the growing number of information-technology professionals, and by early 1999 the term "the Slashdot effect" was coming into use to denote a sudden spike in Web traffic to a site that Slashdot had linked to, which then slowed the other site down considerably or caused it to crash altogether. Andrew Brown, a British journalist writing in the New Statesman called Malda's site "perhaps the most selfconsciously geeky place on the web…. The motto 'Slashdot. News for nerds. Stuff that matters'—gives a flavor of the terse and often justified arrogance that flavors the site. The idea is that this is a place where the people who understand technology can talk about what is really happening. It is a debating chamber for the unacknowledged legislators of the modern world."
Malda's company, which he ran out of a small office in his hometown for its first few years in operation, was bought by Andover.net in mid-1999. That company became Open Source Development Network (later Open Source Technology Group), which in February of 2000 merged with VA Linux in a deal that, on paper at least, was valued at $975 million. It was one of a wave of breathtakingly lucrative buyouts of small, homegrown Web sites that were part of what became known as the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, but many of the acquisitions were of sites that had failed to earn a profit yet—Malda's Slashdot included—which then went on to become publicly traded companies with soaring stock prices; when the stock market began to falter, the valuation of many of these companies plummeted. Such was the case with VA Linux, whose shares were trading at $250 each in 2000, but then dropped to 75 cents a share two years later.
Malda still runs the Slashdot site with Bates and a few others from an office in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He scored an unexpected public-relations coup on Valentine's Day of 2002, when he posted an online marriage proposal to his girlfriend of several years, Kathleen Fent. Under a Slashdot article titled, "Kathleen Fent, Read This Story," he asked her to marry him, and Fent's response came an interminable 15 minutes later. The incident earned Malda's Web site a barrage of international media attention, but the prospective groom claimed his reasons for doing so online were purely personal. As he stated in his offer to Fent, according to a Grand Rapids Press article by Jack Naudi, "I wanted to do this in this most potentially embarrassing way possible."
Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA), May 31, 2005.
Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI), February 21, 2002, p. A1.
New Statesman, September 20, 1999, p. 50.
New York Times, October 14, 2002.
Time, June 21, 2004, p. 64.
"About Me," Rob Malda, http://cmdrtaco.net/rob.shtml (February 7, 2007).