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A look back at 16 years of LinuxQuestions.org
LinuxQuestions.org celebrates sweet 16
The founder of LinuxQuestions.org looks back on the site's humble beginnings and its vibrant community.
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This month on The Queue, I answer a multi-part question received via email:
Why did you start LinuxQuestions.org? And can you tell us a little about the history of the site?
Computers, programming, and technology in general have always fascinated me. When I was in high school, I started working for a local ISP that used UNIX almost exclusively. The "UNIX way" just clicked and made a lot of sense to me. It wasn't long before I wanted to run something similar at home. The ISP used SCO, which is fairly ironic in retrospect, so home use really wasn't possible due to the high cost and licensing restrictions of the product. Searching for an alternative quickly lead me to Linux.
I purchased The Linux Bible from a local bookstore, so my first distribution was Yggdrasil. Although the last official release of Yggdrasil was in 1995, it was a popular option early on and ended up being the first Linux distribution available as a live CD. I've used Linux as my main operating system ever since. I like to tinker and understand how things work, so the fact that I could get an operating system that allowed me not only to see how things worked, but also to modify how things worked, enthralled me.
Fast forward to 2000, and I had just started my first job that was dedicated solely to working with Linux. I had been using Linux for a while at this point and wanted to give something back to a community that I felt had given me quite a bit. The first post on LinuxQuestions.org, a welcome message, was June 25, 2000.
The initial LinuxQuestions.org site consisted of a logo crudely designed by me, a forum, and a short-lived news portal that was based on Slash, which was the Perl-based code running Slashdot at the time.
In the beginning, LinuxQuestions.org was basically just me answering questions posted by other members. I figured someday the site would grow to maybe a few hundred people, so to say it has grown far beyond my initial expectations is a monumental understatement. I still fondly remember the first time a member I didn't personally know answered a question. Today we have more than 500,000 members and millions of posts.
As for the history and progression of the site, so much comes to mind that it's difficult to pick just a few moments, but here are highlights:
A year in, we added our first moderator, which was a big step in growing the site and I remember being fairly nervous about it working out. We now have a team of more than 20 moderators who are spread out around the world. They're responsible for everything from cleaning up spam, to enforcing the community guidelines, to ensuring new members feel welcome. The amount of dedication and hard work they put into LinuxQuestions.org is truly remarkable, and we quite simply would not be the friendly, welcoming, vibrant place we are today without this group.
Members Choice Awards
On a bit of a whim, I started the Members Choice Awards a year later, and it's been fun to watch them grow as an annual event from there. The MCAs allow the community to vote on their favorite projects/products in a variety of categories, some of which change each year. Many projects really get into it, and it's nice to be able to not only recognize the winners, but also gain additional exposure for great open source projects in the process.
There were 11 categories the first year, and winners included Red Hat Linux, KDE, Enlightenment, Quake III, StarOffice, and MySQL.
In 2015, we had 35 categories and winners in the same categories were Linux Mint, KDE (GNOME has won during the interim), Openbox, 0 A.D., LibreOffice, and MariaDB. (Voting for the 16th Members Choice Awards will open soon. Follow us on Twitter @linuxquestions to be notified when the polls open.)
Linux distributions forum
In 2002, the first distribution started officially participating. Although Linux From Scratch led the way, we now have more than 30 distributions in our official Distributions Forum program, and all distributions are welcome. If you're associated with a distribution that would like to participate, contact us for more information; there is no cost and the requirements are minimal. I think having participation from such a diverse group of people helps create the unique atmosphere we have.
First conference booth
We got a chance to exhibit at LinuxWorld in New York a few years in, and the feedback we got was really energizing. For those who don't remember LinuxWorld, it was one of the first large events focused on Linux and Open Source, with attendance topping 20,000 at its peak. We had moderators fly in from multiple countries, and people from all over the world visited our booth to tell us how much they liked the site and how much it had helped them, or who just stopped by to say hello because they wanted to meet us. Linus Torvalds even stopped by each booth in the .org Pavilion. It was a humbling experience, and one that has happened many times since. If you'd have told me when I founded the site that I'd have experiences such as that one, I'd certainly not have believed you.
In 2004 we launched a podcast and it really changed how members interacted with the site. Although we no longer produce the LQ Podcast or LQ Radio, the archives are still available and it's something I consider reviving from time to time.
The 100,000th member, 1-millionth thread, and 5-millionth post milestones all stick out as memorable. The numbers involved are so far beyond my initial expectations that it's difficult to articulate. We even had a contest in which the member who guessed the correct date and time the 100,000th member would register won a gratis LinuxQuestions.org shirt. The correct answer ended up being March 13, 2004 between 7-8pm EST.
With all that said, I think the best part about LinuxQuestions.org for me is hearing members say how much they enjoy participating, or getting a message from someone saying they'd have given up on Linux if the site and community didn't exist.
In the end, it's really about community. The open source world is full of smart, energetic, talented, people, and I'm absolutely a better person for having been exposed to it. I've also made quite a few good friends along the way.
Although running such a large community can be challenging at times, it's extremely rewarding and I'm both honored and humbled that so many people have chosen to take time out of their lives to participate and have allowed us to be part of the Linux ecosystem for so long. We'll continue to attempt to improve each and every day, so if you have any feedback for us, please let me know.