Originally Published: Tuesday, 16 May 2000 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Money or Mayhem for Linux Portals

Corporate sponsorship of news sites can be a great thing. Without Andover.Net supporting Slashdot, Microsoft would have been able to intimidate the site into removing some contentious postings they objected to. Instead, Slashdot has the funds to consult with lawyers and to fight back.

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Without much fanfare, Red Hat Software (RHAT) this week announced that it was laying off employees at their open source news portal. Wide Open News was Red Hat's effort to meet their original pre-IPO goal to "create the definitive online destination for the open source community". Now, the portal is being reorganized to repackage content from its editorial partnerships. There will no longer be any original content created at Wide Open. Is there something deeper at work here, or is this simply a case of business running on Internet time?

Interestingly, Red Hat was one of the bidders for the Linux.com domain. Of course, VA Linux beat them and several others (including Microsoft) with a winning bid, and when the Andover.Net acquisition goes through, VA Linux will also own Slashdot.org and Freshmeat.net. VA also puts up the bandwidth, hardware and development costs for Sourceforge.net.

In the battle for the open source portals VA Linux seems to be pulling out ahead. The other competitors for open source aficionados' eyeballs are Linux Today and Linux Weekly News. Linux Today was acquired by Internet.com and Linux Weekly News was recently sold to Tucows.com. With LWN finally finding the right partnership, the Linux community has "lost" one of the remaining financially independent news portals. All the major sites have sold out to larger corporate entities.

Another lesser-known fact is that some of the people who got laid off at Linuxcare were some of its web content staff. Like practically every other Linux company, Linuxcare had put forth a portal-like interface to their Web site. However, with their botched IPO, they couldn't justify all of the costs associated with the effort. With their editorial layoffs, it will probably mean a reduction in original content from Linuxcare as well.

So where is all the original content coming from? Slashdot, Linux Today, and to a lesser extent Linux Weekly News, simply repackage or link to original content. They provide their value by aggregating news in one place and by allowing their users to post comments on the subjects. Linux.com is one of the few remaining Linux "portals" which provides original content on a daily basis.

Is this a bad thing? No, with a couple of reservations. The Linux community is held together by e-mail, IRC, and public news and message boards such as Slashdot and Linux.com. All of us must keep a close eye on anyone who establishes an information monopoly within the Linux community. It is important not to focus so much on the right to copy source code, that freedom of speech is abridged. The reduction of original content and the increase of corporate sponsorship places those of us producing original content in a unique situation.

Corporate sponsorship of news sites can be a great thing. Without Andover.Net supporting Slashdot, Microsoft would have been able to intimidate the site into removing some contentious postings they objected to. Instead, Slashdot has the funds to consult with lawyers and to fight back. As long as the community is wary, and insists that the news they read comes from a site that is editorially independent, there should be no problems.

I would be much more concerned if there weren't already sites like Kuro5hin.org and Advogato.org continually pushing some of the older sites to keep on their toes. If the larger sites ever do violate the trust of the community, these are going to be the places everyone migrates to.

Matt Michie is a Computer Science student living in New Mexico. He maintains a small web page at http://web.nmsu.edu/~mmichie.





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