News for nerds: why a career site bought Slashdot

In a surprise deal, job site Dice has acquired Slashdot and two other tech sites from Geeknet for $20 million cash.  The move is risky but could pay off if Slashdot’s millions of smart, Star-Wars loving readers stick around.

For the unfamiliar, Slashdot is a self-described “news for nerds” aggregation site that is home to a rabid base of commentators who will debate topics like Firefox updates and the DMCA until their dying breath. The site relies on unpaid moderators who filter incoming stories and watch over the readers who vote each other’s comments up and down.

As the site emerged as the first big tech aggregator, “getting Slashdotted” became an honor for writers and resulted in a burst of traffic for publications. Slashdot’s founder, Rob “Commander Taco” Malda left the site in 2011 to join the Washington Post as a digital strategist (see some of his comments here from paidContent 2012).

But what does all this have to do with a career site? Good question.

“The strategic interest is to build content and user engagement,”  said Mike Durney, the CFO of Dice Inc, in a phone interview. Durney explained that Dice provides advice not just on finding a career but on managing one — and that Slashdot’s deep pool of tech-savvy commentators can help supply that. In other words, Dice will get a lot of quality content with a heavy social component.

This is a shrewd idea but success could depend on how Slashdot’s iconoclastic readers react. Durney says that Slashdot will remain independent and that Dice will be “very, very careful” in deciding how to interweave its content into the career site. The good news for Dice is that other arms-length owners like Conde Nast and News Corp have been able to let their respective sites, Reddit and AllThingsD, flourish from a relative distance.

More broadly, though, Slashdot’s new owners must also decide how to invigorate a 15-year-old site that has lost some of its luster next to upstart aggregators like Hacker News and Reddit. Financial documents show that readership at Slashdot and Sourceforge (a much larger site for coders also acquired in the deal) declined from 49 to 45 million unique visitors in the last year. Dice’s task is not urgent, however, as the records show that the former sites are for now their earning their keep through advertising.