Avantslash Home   |   Download   |   Demo (slashdot)   |   Demo (soylentnews)   |   README   |   Change log  

Are you a regular reader of slashdot.org or SoylentNews.org? Are you annoyed that as of 2014 Slashdot still does not have a decent [see below] mobile website? Then AvantSlash may be something for you.

Avantslash is a perl script that should run on a webserver that you control. It will screen-scrape the slashdot.org website and reformat the content for your mobile phone.

Links

QR code Send your phone directly to the demo site.

Features

System requirements

Screenshots

Screenshot avantslash main page Avantslash main page
Screenshot SoylentNews comments page SoylentNews comments page
Screenshot avantslash preferences page Preferences page
Screenshot avantslash comments page Comments page (2014-01-01)
Screenshot SoylentNews main page SoylentNews main page
Screenshot SoylentNews search page SoylentNews search page

Why?

m.slashdot.org, screenshot Screenshot of m.slashdot.org
(January 2014).

As of 2014, Slashdot does have a mobile site (see screenshot). But on the stock browser of my 2011 Android Gingerbread phone, it is close to unusable and on Opera Mobile, it doesn't work at all. (Indeed, the FAQ states that one should use the latest Chrome for Android browser in order to use it.) It is slow to load and unresponsive. It uses a gray-on-gray color scheme with poor readability under daylight conditions. A lot of screen real-estate is wasted on empty space and redundant "comment hidden" messages.

If you use a mobile device while sitting in the bus/train or some other location away from your trusted Wifi network, you will be using mobile data. You may not always have five bars of 3.5G signal strength and you may have a limited data plan. As of March, 2014, slashdot.org has four versions of their site: (1) the classic version, (2) the mobile version, (3) the `beta' version, and (4) the legacy version (static HTML, "D1", only selectable for logged-in users). The table below shows the total data downloaded for different use cases, including Avantslash. As of March 2014, SoylentNews has only the legacy static-HTML version. The data used by Avantslash depends on whether the server has gzip/deflate compression enabled.

Site, user agent Main page
1st hit (kB)
Main page
reload (kB)
Comments page
(kB)
m.slashdot.org (Mar 2014) 75 55–60 45–80
m.slashdot.org (Jan 2014) 940 910 300
slashdot.org (classic AJAX, D2) 1320 270–550 170–220 (230)
beta.slashdot.org 2250 380–460 190
slashdot.org (legacy static, D1) 1100 540 130 (180)
Avantslash (slashdot) 36 29 15 (59)
Avantslash+mod_deflate (slashdot) 17 12 5 (18)
soylentnews.org (legacy static) (2014-03-15) 190 34 24 (14)
soylentnews.org (legacy static) (ca. 2014-03-02) 190 42 114 (19)
Avantslash (soylentnews) 28 21 25 (34)
Avantslash+mod_deflate (soylentnews) 13 9 11 (13)

When I first made this list, the Slashdot mobile site was really bad with hundreds of kB for loading a page. Maybe they read this page; it improved quite a bit in terms of bandwidth. However, slashdot mobile still seems to put high demands on the phone (CPU, memory, and browser-engine version), and in my opinion it has a crummy user interface. Slashdot's regular desktop pages are way too big for a low-speed data connection anyway. In contrast, Avantslash is very lightweight and has a configurable user-interface.

As of March 2014, SoylentNews has fairly lightweight HTML, so the main reason for using AvantSlash would be that the layout is adjusted better for mobile usage. For instance, with the Chrome browser on a 7-inch tablet (Android 4.3), the comments are not very practical to read in portrait mode (choose between tiny fonts or horizontal scrolling). Like Slashdot, they shaved off some of the data load, likely related to this thread on SoylentNews. Still, Avantslash shaves a few bytes more off the data, for those cases when you have only a 2G data connection.

Method

For the numbers in the table, the "RX bytes" as reported by ifconfig were counted, in the following sequence: (1) open main page with empty cache, (2) reload main page, (3) go to comments page, (4) change threshold to 2 and expand a few hidden messages. This was for a comments page with 187 comments in total (10 at score 4, 81 at score 2). Slashdot beta and mobile seem to download 100 comments on first load without refreshes upon changing the threshold, so there is only one number for the last two items. The ads on slashdot.org make the data payload somewhat variable, hence the ranges.

For SoylentNews, a similar procedure was followed, for a story with 41 comments. At first load, it is displayed in "threaded mode", with most comments hidden. The second number for comments is in "nested mode" at threshold 2. (The older SoylentNews data was for a different story, with 132 comments)

Avantslash was running on an Apache-2.2 server, with and without mod_deflate enabled for html, javascript, and css.

Limitations

Slashdot beta

By the end of the year 2013, slashdot started serving main and comments pages in "beta" layout at random, about one out of three times. (On February 5, 2014, slashdot started doing this for logged-in users as well, which led to a massive revolt among the slashdot user community.)

Fortunately, this can – for now – be suppressed by sending an appropriate cookie to the slashdot server.

The "beta" comment pages are organized completely different from the classic pages: there are no comments in the HTML output; rather, all comments are downloaded dynamically via javascript. Obviously, in the beta layout, there are no comments for the avantslash code to extract, and it would be difficult to maintain code to deal with two entirely different server engines.

Maximum number of stories, comments

Slashdot will serve at most 100 comments, preferentially those with high scores and not too deeply nested. It will never serve comments with score 0 or -1 on a story page. If you want to see more comments, you have to click the [thread] links under the comments. Note that this will open a thread page containing the post, its replies, and its parent, but not its siblings. Seeing the entire thread may require traversing the thread upward by iteratively clicking the parent post.

SoylentNews

As of March 2014, SoylentNews does not use the D2 system, which Avantslash would use for dynamic message expansion. So, this feature is not supported for SoylentNews. Also, SoylentNews delivers at most 50 messages to non-logged-in users, something which is reflected in Avantslash's message display.

About

Avantslash was developed by Richard Lawrence and Han-Kwang Nienhuys. We are not affiliated with or endorsed by the corporate overlords of slashdot.org (i.e., Dice Holdings, Inc..).

Contact developers

Send feedback to avantslash-dev at this domain name.