Ars Technica is one of the most prominent technology websites on the Internet. Though it was originally created as a PC hardware website, it has become something of a general technology website, covering all major computer architectures in depth as well as other science, engineering, and legal issues connected with the 'cutting edge'. Associated with Ars is the massive OpenForum, which remains one of the highest signal-to-noise technology fora on the Internet.
Ars the News Site
The central, unifying part of Ars Technica is its newsfeed. Unlike Slashdot's newsfeed, which generally consists of links to news stories on other sites with a (usually very brief) commentary, Ars's newsfeed is mostly written by the site editors and includes readable and complete summaries of the news at hand. Ars's focus is also narrower than Slashdot's, omitting the 'geek culture' items and focusing on technology, science, and the surrounding legal issues. Some short-format links are included in the sporadic 'Et Cetera' feature, but long-form summaries and analysis are the norm.
Articles on Ars
Ars publishes infrequent but generally well-researched articles on a variety of topics centring on computers. Recent articles include an in-depth architectural history of the PowerPC and Pentium CPU lines, a review of virtual machine software, game reviews, and a technical overview of PCI Express. Ars hosts 10-page reviews of the latest KDE and GNOME desktop environments and 20-page reviews of each version of Mac OS X. Virtually all of these show evidence of considerable attention and research, and are heavy on diagrams and light on graphs. Originally there were more conventional benchmark-based hardware reviews on Ars, but the writers behind these left to start The Tech Report, one of the best PC hardware websites on the Internet.
In addition to the infrequent feature articles, there are four weekly columns each covering an area of interest to Ars readers. (All of them appear to be on some sort of summer hiatus at the moment). The longest-running of these is Game.Ars, which collects and analyses gaming-related news that isn't of general enough interest to make the front page, and adds to it a lengthy editorial. Mac.Ars came next, performing a similar function for the Macintosh world and followers of Apple in general. There is also Linux.Ars, giving both news and HOWTOs on a weekly basis. Science.Ars, formerly Science Sunday, summarises recent developments and issues in the natural sciences.
Ars as a Community
Perhaps the most vital area of Ars Technica is the sprawling OpenForum. Seventeen free fora and three subscriber-post-only (more on this below) fora comprise the OpenForum, hosting over four million posts. Six hardware fora cover such diverse topics as cases, CPUs and A/V, and a seventh hosts classified ads (buy, sell, and trade). Software trolling and flamewars are dealt with through a dedicated forum, the Battlefront, with the more belligerent users of the other software fora asked to take their disputes there. Technical discussion of Windows, Macintosh, and Linux/Unix is welcomed on dedicated fora for each of these OSs. Additionally, there are free fora for gaming, programming, and business issues. The OpenForum also hosts discussions on articles and newsfeed items.
A Basic Subscription to Ars nets post access to three more forums: the Lounge, the Soap Box, and the Velvet Room. The Lounge is a casual social forum, the Soap Box supports serious discussion of controversial issues, and the Velvet Room hosts mature discussion of relationships and sex. (One must be a registered user to even browse the Velvet Room) These fora are restricted to subscribers as they are non-technical and the Basic Subscription is only $25 a year.
The quality of discussion on Ars is considerably better than at Slashdot, as the moderation policy at Ars is set up to promote serious discussion over karma whoring and propagation of in-jokes. Some of the discussion reaches a depth that I have seen few other places. There is also clear evidence of community in the OpenForum. Although not as frequent as nodermeets, Ars meet-ups are not uncommon, especially around the Ars founders' home in Boston.
Ars is supported through a subscription program. In additon to the Basic Subscription mentioned above there is also Premier Membership, for $5 a month or $50 a year. Premier Membership gives access to PDF versions of the Ars articles, image hosting, and a number of benefits in the OpenForum. Since Ars is refreshingly light on advertising, this helps defray the cost of running the site.
Ars is, along with E2, one of the first websites I load up every morning. Its thoughtful mix of news, articles, and community are at once both informative and entertaining. The URL is, naturally, http://www.arstechnica.com/ , and they proudly claim to have served the enthusiast community for '5*10^-2 centuries'.
This writeup is copyright 2004 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/ .