Leonard's old Segfault stories

2007/01/24 - From 1998 to 2001 I was an editor, and eventually the editor, of the online geek humor site segfault.org. I'm not particularly proud of this. For the first year of its life, Segfault had an effectively unmoderated comment system, and it bred not only hideous trolls but an entire subculture of hideous trolling. We left the comment cesspit untouched for far longer than we should have, because we were working from an incorrect model of how the web fosters free speech. The Wikipedia article makes it sound Segfault was the proving ground for the modern techniques of Slashdot trolls, which is probably within a Wikipedia-sigma of accuracy. So I apologize for that.

The other reason I'm not too proud of Segfault is that the concept turned out to be flawed. The idea was that Segfault would be an operational parody of Slashdot (for the youngsters in the crowd, imagine Slashdot as a cross between Digg and Boing Boing). The geeky masses would submit their hilarious satirical news stories to us, and we'd aggregate the best ones by publishing them on our site. In retrospect, this was exactly the kind of fuzzy idea that people come up with while there's an Internet bubble on.

See, submitting a link to Slashdot is easy because someone else (the person at the other end of the link) has already done the work of being interesting. To write a good satirical news story you must have 1) a funny idea, and 2) the ability to write. Comedy is humor plus delivery. It was a rare Segfault submitter who combined these qualities, and despite my attempts to punch up the "funny idea" stories, the expected quality of even the published Segfault stories was pretty low. So Segfault stumbled along for three years publishing "eh" stories and occasional gems, and when our host (VA Linux, now VA Software) destroyed the site in a hard drive mishap I didn't exactly have a whole lot of incentive to get it running again.

But there are some things about Segfault that I remember fondly and at a safe distance. There were the stories that burst free of Segfault and became folklore, like the Gospel of Tux, and the ones that should have but didn't, like RFC 31337 and Martijn Faassen's series about the busybodies at GOSSIPI (Good Open Source Software In the Public Interest). There was the story Rick Miller wrote where he got Linus Torvalds to pose like Bill Gates. I still think about my own stories, when they were good, and good lines from my lousy stories (an otherwise unremarkable story had the epic headline "Linux: Windows Avenger or Worm-Ridden OS of Filth?"). I think about the way this site let me catch onto some small portion of the dot-com wave, or at least fool myself into believing I had. And of course there's the fact that I met my wife through Segfault.

Maybe enough time has passed that the Segfault stories can be seen as historical documents, ways of gauging at the obsessions of nerds in the late 1990s. I look at these stories, and remember the ones from the slush pile, and I can't believe people were so obsessed with Microsoft, so fundamentally insecure about Linux and the open source model. I go weeks now without thinking about Microsoft. If Segfault were around today it would be full of lame jokes about Google and Wikipedia. You'd still have the MPAA lawsuit jokes; some things never change.

That might qualify as humor but I always wanted Segfault to be satire, to hold a mirror up to the insanity of the times. When I look back on my early writing, that's what I look for. I've decided to give a new home to a few of my stories that best capture the fervor that heralded the rise of Linux, as well as the hubris of the dot-com boom and the denial stage of the bust.

With that in mind, here are my lame-ass ten-year-old stories.

Be Dope Bonus

I also wrote three stories for Be Dope, the boom-era geek humor site whose archives are still online. Here they are:

This document is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Friday, January 26 2007, 15:08:14 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Saturday, June 03 2023, 07:00:16 Nowhere Standard Time.

Crummy is © 1996-2023 Leonard Richardson. Unless otherwise noted, all text licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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