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Reddit, where chaos thrives, tries to clean up to attract ads from big brands (latimes.com)
40 points by elorant 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

Well, as the disease of advertising progresses, Reddit too will shed all that made it interesting. It so happens that first to go are the people almost universally considered undesirable, but it won't stop at that.

I dislike advertising as much as the next guy but really, what alternatives do websites like reddit have?

Individual donations, subscriptions, being treated as a goodwill or marketing expense by a company doing working in some tangentially related space (the way YCombinator keeps HN running), are some ideas free of the problems of advertising.

Here the core advertising-related problem is third party advertising. Were Reddit the co. to have some other business of their own that they advertised on Reddit in order to fund the site, there would still be ads, but they wouldn't interfere with the site itself. Here however, Reddit has to be neutered so that it appeals to generic advertisers - any content or communities that they, the third parties may find objectionable must go.

It's hard to a site as Reddit to pivot from the status quo to any of the more reasonable business models, because they were started with third-party advertisements in mind from the get go. The fatal disease was transmitted at birth, but it's only now that it closes on to the terminal stage. Once you get people used to free, it's hard to start charging money, and Reddit the company doesn't have any other business that could fund the site pro bono.

"Once you get people used to free, it's hard to start charging money"

You can leave your core offering free/ad-encumbered, but add additional services (ideally, replicate your complements)

For example, YouTube started off as free / ad sponsored, but look at the incredible revenue streams they have added:

• Patreon-like subscription model

• Merch integration with spring-tee

• Music / Premium / TV subscription <--- this is most likely the largest revenue stream after ads.

Now Reddit could be similar by adding:

• Paid feeds for sexual content (r/sexsells), trading, crypto, art, etc.

• Sponsored "TV mode" streams for major news / sports outlets

• Verified status subscription?

• Ability to post longer, Reddit hosted, videos behind a paywall with a preview.

I'm just spitballing ideas which certainly have their complexities and challenges, but free user-generated content is a great way to acquire users for fractions of a penny.

That userbase is reddit's competitive advantage when building any number of additional services.

Well, charging for it. Yes, they'd lose a big chunk of the userbase who value it a little bit but not really. But is it worth, say, $1/year to most users? Probably! And Reddit has 330 million users. Even if your conversion rate at that price is only 10% you should be able to run it for $33 million / year - it deals primarily with text, the software is relatively stable, it doesn't advertise. I suspect Reddit could be run very cheaply.

I think this is the wrong question; who cares what options Reddit has - what other options do the users have?

Reddit seems to be overplaying its hand, if they do then they'll get hit by the same obliviating exodus that others have been destroyed by in the past.

Ideally the next incarnation will be more decentralised in it's structure.

Every time Reddit bans one of the more cesspool-y subreddits there’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and planned exoduses. The most popular alternative seems to be Voat, 8chan, or similar sites much more welcoming of violently racist (/r/chimpire, /r/coontown), political (/r/the_donald), misogynistic (/r/incel) rhetoric, or legally questionable/nonconsensual sexualization of teens (/r/jailbait, there was also a subreddit dedicated to nonconsensual pictures of women that I forget the name of), or other content that users feel they are being persecuted for sharing. While these sites struggle to find ways to find funding for site largely dedicated to sharing content much of society finds abhorrent, the bans do appear to have their intended effects of removing some of these distasteful people and rhetoric from the Reddit platform[0] with very minimal loss of users - and the users who are leaving were those who were originally propagating aforementioned material, so the loss isn’t very valuable. In the meantime, 8chan has cultivated a reputation for itself as an enclave for individuals looking to commit or celebrate mass murder.


Wikipedia model? Simply ask for donations periodically.

Usenet model but with a modern UX

I’m not sure why any company would pay money to advertise there, when you can easily buy upvotes instead. Sure it takes a little more creativity and a longer investment, but if the current front page is any guide, there are plenty of organizations that can do it.

Ad works differently than normal post. Even if your post make it to the front page, it will only be displayed once. Also, it mean the user either need to be looking at r/all or popular, or be subscribed to the subreddit.

Ad are display several time per page and will be display whatever subreddit the user is currently on.

There's a good reason why podcast hosts read the ad copy. Even if an advert is obviously an advert - if it comes from a trusted source it's still more effective. The adverts which are astro-turfed as real posts are more effective simply because they seem to be endorsed by the community you're a part of.

It also isn't legal throughout most of the western world so it is a pretty risky thing to be doing. Saying that no one has cracked down on the youtube channels that repeatedly do it nor websites that have been utilising it for 15 years so I guess it is pretty hard to start prosecuting now, it won't be Reddit that shows the necessity of applying that law.

But the best kind of ad is the kind the enduser doesn't realize is an ad. Not to mention that cross-posting happens all the time so your "ad" can make it all over the site for a day or so. And if it goes viral enough on reddit, it'll inevitably be picked up by a multitude of websites built around leaching content from reddit. Obviously there's no guarantee that it'll work any given time, but try it enough over a span of time and I can see how it would be more effective than traditional advertisements.

It's why Facebook ads look identical to posts at a glance. If you don't know it's an ad, you're more likely to click it, share it, like it, etc.

but everyone blocks ads and buying upvotes is extremely cheap

Yeah, I think the article actually mentions this subtly when it talks about "machine learning tools that recognize suspicious or badly behaved accounts". Sure that'll hopefully catch some russian trying to sow discord, but I'll bet you it's mostly to combat the upvote-farms, so their own offering becomes better by comparison.

I would sure like to advertise but (a) their ad manager is amateurish, and (b) they don't allow anything related to cryptocurrency.

cause buying upvotes would not work at scale and you take the risk to get busted for doing that.

Busted how though? It's not like McDonalds, for example, would use a Mc-branded account to post random things to reddit with clearly visible McDonald cups or whatever. They'd use some throwaway account or buy an established account and buy upvotes to target that account's post. Reddit has no way to punish them for that. Maybe the reddit users find out and get pissed, but the site has no attention span and they'll forget and move on in a week.

I get your point but do you think that massive brands like McDonalds would take this path to show you a hidden ads about their brand. no. They can pay millions to blast you their McDonalds cups on TV ads. When these kind of companies want to start to put ads on a new media they have 6 or 7 figures budget. They don't give a damn about paying a 100USD gig to have their McDonalds cups's post on the front page for 3 hours. They want their McDonalds cups on the front page ALL the time.

Why wouldn't they though? Astroturfing gets around adblockers entirely and reaches those who are ad-adverse because they don't necessarily realize it's an ad. It's nothing new either, it's just the internet equivalent of sitcoms having name brand products visible (and "coincidentally" turned turned so the logo faces the camera) during the show or "I, Robot" having "retro" chucks featured prominently (although obviously way more subtle than that).

My assumption is that McDonalds pays advertising companies to put ads together and distribute them. Why wouldn't they throw a couple hundred bucks at a few low-key ads in a few reddit posts. Doesn't take that many people to buy McDonalds before it pays for itself.

Also, everybody does it. Every major brand already has many thousands of followers with questionable names in clearly irrelevant locations, and this on a platform where such shenanigans are visible to everyone.

There's no reason to believe upvotes, which are less visible to other users, are bought at lesser scale.

When everybody does it, it's hard to single out any one actor as bad.

Can someone explain to me or point to some studies or books that explain why brands, advertisers etc. think that having small problematic groups on a platform affects the brand? You are making an ad for group A and put the ad on subreddits visited by group A, is the "dirt" produce by group B that bad for you that you need to get rid of group B?

There's activist groups that target advertisers to "let them know" about a platform. They often work as mobs that basically blackmail both the advertisers and the platforms with bad publicity. Advertisers are all about publicity, and so far all of them have caved in (Not sure if they 've ever tried the alternative). Like everything in advertising, i doubt you can find a single decent study about performance.

It's much more that these brands' marketing budgets and campaigns are managed by companies that lose contracts like this when a shareholder, partner, customer or press article brings it to their attention.

At the ecosystem level this works - groups generating content that is undesirable (perspective being from the advertisers and their stakeholders) are demonetized and -in cases where policing doesn't happen - entire networks.

No publisher or network is immune to this, even Google.

It's the macro digital equivalent to boycotting and lobbying and it's effective. Advertisers have a say in where they put their money, and their money indirectly and in some cases directly enables that content.

Best you can hope for is transparency and consistency in how the policy is governed.

Have you ever worked for a large company that is recognized by everyone?

You didn’t update your terms and conditions to meet the regulation date as of 12:01 AM? Lawsuit. You aren’t following accessibility standards? Reported to the human rights tribunal. You gave a perk to some clients but not others? 4,000 calls to the call center. Your ad was pictured next to a post about the nazis? Your brand made the evening news.

We have two rules at my company that guide EVERYTHING we do: don’t cause calls to the call center, and don’t make the evening news. Things get crazy when you have customers that number in the millions, it changes everything about how you operate.

As with everything internet: good doesn't last. Now that Reddit has started its demise, where do we flok to next?

You're saying this on HN: a site that's vastly more regulated than reddit ever has been or is likely to be.

I'm old enough to remember reddit before the days of subreddits. It wasn't a magnet for extreme content back then. That happened as a result of subreddits.

>It wasn't a magnet for extreme content back then. That happened as a result of subreddits.


And it's not just reddit. As long as you can create subgroups within communities you're eventually going to attract some problematic people. While something like CP on tumblr really brought it to light, tumblr was and still is home to some insanely extreme ideologies. Ideologies that some people find completely idiotic but which others truly believe in.

It's the same with other places, in case you weren't aware, Instagram has a ton of CP as well. With tags you can find dedicated groups of various different ideologies, a lot of them extremely problematic.

Same with Facebook and its tags/groups/whatever.

And of course Reddit and its subs.

This all stems from the fact that separating content into categories and tags that people can freely define, means that for people looking for extreme ideologies, it's trivial to find an echo chamber with just a tag or two.

What is the problem with having extreme or dumb ideologies?

Without extreme views you can't have progress: in a lot of countries, being for homosexual rights or abortion is extreme.

The problem is isolation. Usually those are isolated, which means that it won't get neither exposure if it's actual a good thing, nor backlash if it's bad. That's the problem with "infinite" divisions, you get those very little bubbles.

Try imagining that you're hosting reddit yourself. Pretty easy to see what the problem is from that point of view. Do you want to be hosting and enabling child porn, hate speech, terrorism, etc. etc.?

I'd like people to remember that some people's terrorists are other people's freedom fighters. Same thing with hate speech. And the age of consent is not the same everywhere: maybe (I hope not) people against child porn will be labeled bigots somewhere one day.

Well, if you're happy to host all that, why not just set up your own reddit? The software is open source.

I think you might find that dealing with the legal consequences isn't a lot of fun. And I wonder if you'd really be so blasé about enabling that kind of content once you were actually looking at it on a daily basis.

Tbh that's what I think is great about 4chan compared to others, it's just has those very few and limited groups/boards, rather than infinite.

Well, HN is an equivalent of a subreddit, not Reddit itself. There are plenty of subreddits with HN-level quality of discussion, and there are plenty of extreme content websites out there. Reddit as a whole is essentially a smaller Internet, dimensionally reduced into a discussion board format.

Reddit and Hacker News aren’t really similar/comparable, and extreme content came much, much later than the existence of subreddits (and the admins took a very hands off approach to it then, too.)

Ah yeah, I didn't mean to suggest that subreddits immediately led to extreme content. However, they obviously are part of what enables it, since that stuff would never have got voted onto the reddit front page.

One example of an effective barrier that has kept shit to a minimum is metafilter, where you need to pay a one time token 5 dollars to make an account. It's been around for about twenty years now.

The one that do survive to a mature age are less likely to be unicorns however.

Maybe that's where the real problem is.

Or SA.

HN is very good for one focused thing. Reddit used to be good for everythng but more and more it's bad for everything but soulless corporate-friendliness.

Wasn't it when Digg did their very unpopular redesign/rework that people left there and headed to Reddit?

Earlier, as Digg started to suffer from eternal september cancer.

You are right, but HN is regulated. Reddit is moderated. On Reddit there are so many examples of straight bad moderation, personal feuds, and aberrant behavior recently. Take a peek at /r/watchredditdie.

I'm not sure what the distinction is here?

There is no distinction. HN is aggressively moderated according to a set of guidelines (regulations.)

And that's why HN is only good for a very specific and narrow subtopic of the whole reddit universe. You can't even have decent political discussion here, not mentioning all the other Reddit's delightful crazyness.

> And that's why HN is only good for a very specific and narrow subtopic of the whole reddit universe.

Which is a good thing IMO. Not everything needs to be the next (or just another) digg/reddit/whatever. HN deliberately has a more specific focus than that of reddit, it is a feature not a flaw (if you watn everything to be reddit, then perhaps you would consider it a flawed feature).

> You can't even have decent political discussion here

Again, this is very deliberate. While there are some specific circumstances where significant political discussion is on-topic here, it generally isn't. See the very first section of https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html for official word on the matter.

Complaining that you can't have the political discussion that you want on a forum where politics is officially off-topic, is like complaining that you can't have the bacon cheese burger (with real pig and cow involved) that you want in the vegan restaurant you've decided to take lunch in.

> Complaining that you can't have the political discussion that you want on a forum where politics is officially off-topic, is like complaining that you can't have the bacon cheese burger (with real pig and cow involved) that you want in the vegan restaurant you've decided to take lunch in.

Except this is disingenuous. There are political discussions found here, but one side is generally downvoted.

Whether it is actually here in part, what votes go where, etc. does not alter that it is not considered on-topic here.

"The rule is already broken in one direction, so it should be right to break it in another" isn't a helpful take IMO.

I'm not sure how you have interpreted my statement to mean the above. Please re-read without the assumptions.

> I'm not sure how you have interpreted my statement to mean the above

You said that you saw one side being downvoted. I took that as meaning you thought it should be left alone like the other side is, when IMO that is not the solution. If both are off-topic (which they usually are, by my reading of the guidelines) both should be down-voted. The fix for the imbalance is not to encourage more but from other angles, it is to enforce the desired topic limits evenly.

(using the word "side" above may be ill-advised on my part, I know most matters are far more complex than a binary this-side-and-that-side, but better wording did not spring to mind)

pjc50 66 days ago [flagged]

Hardly. It's just that there's a standard for quality of argument, which means that a lot of conservative nonsense gets shot down on sight. There are big conflicting "liberal" and "libertarian" factions, a lot of European social democrats, a growing pro-union faction, but also the gun owner faction and (unsurprisingly) a lot of "small business conservatives" and so on.

You can, for example, debate pro-vs-anti nuclear power without necessarily getting downvoted. You can't post straight up climate change denial.

You can argue that the stackexchange moderator fiasco was incredibly badly handled. You can't post straight up homophobia.

> It's just that there's a standard for quality of argument, which means that a lot of conservative nonsense gets shot down on sight

Please don't post ideological flamebait to HN or take threads further into flamewar.


A delightfully condescending reply.

An ad-hominem response.

More importantly his comment was a Straw man.

Just because the discussions exist doesn't mean they should. Everyone feels their particular ideology is the one targeted. It's why Fox News can claim to be an underdog despite being the number 1 news station in the US. It's why liberals were shocked when the President won by following a strategy of electoral votes versus popular vote. Everyone is in their own bubble and it's the reason why politics are bad conversation. No one wants to have a conversation and come to an understanding they mostly just want to yell at one another about how the other side is wrong and stupid.

No, not everyone is in their own bubble. Some are able to be objective, and profit from being so.

There is room for reasoned debate but many are incapable of it, especially on an internet forum.

I'm not complaining, I'm just pointing out the difference.

> decent political discussion

I have never seen that on reddit. Every thread with politics in it seems to only allow one side of the discussion be heard, with the other being downvoted to oblivion. Which side is heard depends on the subreddit, but either way there is no discussion to be had.

I'm not sure if its really a demise. For 99% of users it doesn't matter or it's even positive to not be associated with groups about hate speech or similar stuff.

I’ve been on the site for 7 years (8 in a few days), have been part of the Century Club for 5 years and I would love to see the site with less bigotry. I would say it would be an improvement!

A quick glance at the voat entry will convince you that whatever comes next must withstand a banking blockade, DDOS, bitcoin dust attack, DNS denial and possibly no one will host your domain.


Maybe the stars are aligned for early adopters to try out a decentralized messaging style medium ?

Unless you have a truly original idea that nobody who has given this throught stumbled on - it's not, and it won't work for all the same reasons that Mastodon does not work.

Those reasons are harassment, child pornography, and having to delegate censorship to moderators/people with way too much time on their hands.

You end up back where you started, with a clunky layer of centralized censorship on top of a distributed system.

I believe it is.


All posts are stored on the blockchain using the Memo protocol.

I haven't looked at the software stack but this can't compete with whatsapp/telegram/line on look.

Reddit really went downhill starting around 2015, so a continued decline isn’t all that surprising

You can go to 4chan or 8chan, there is always some place for even more fringe opinions.

I just discovered that I can't browse voat without login in...

As with everything in life. The virginial bliss cannot sustain. As always, you need compromises and structure to integrate with external world support. Hopefully they don't change it too much.

Not even the internet is safe from gentrification.

I'd argue it's almost the other way around. Ever since the internet got popular with companies it's mostly been very 'clean' in that most websites represent a single company or community and you could easily stick to seeing only 'approved' content. Now with 'social media', the internet is finally seeing the real messiness of the real world and places where all types congregate.

Social media is best viewed not as Internet sites, but as mini-Internets spun on top of the real one. A company fanpage or company subreddit is the same as company site on the real Internet. A subreddit or community group is the equivalent of an Internet forum of pre-social-media days. The main difference is that all these mini-Internets are fully centralized, controlled each by a single corporate entity, and monetized through advertisement and surveillance.

The "real mess" of society is different from what social media has created.

Social media has added a new dimension to complexity in society, by adding a number(upvote/click/like/view/retweet etc) next to every thought and utterance.

Those numbers amplify behaviors both good and bad.

People who say social media exposes the real mess, make it easy for social media companies to deny their contribution to the mess.

When they start removing like counts (and it's taken way to long for this move) they are basically admitting their contribution to the mess.

As data of the last 15 years gets analyzed, on the impact of these numbers on individual and group psychology, expect major class action suits against these companies.

> with 'social media', the internet is finally seeing the real messiness of the real world

You only see loud, minority groups. It becomes evident that they 're a minority in every election

> known for provocative discussions and fringe groups

??? After the recent cleanups, there is basically only porn, video games and democratic talking points left. There is nothing even remotely provocative that isn't framed by huge warning signs

What are those "big brands" willing to accept? If their ads appear on a different sub to those they consider objectionable content, would that be considered sufficiently "clean"? Is there a value placed on moderation, and if so, how much value is captured by individual moderators and how will it be allocated?

Perhaps the most important factor in these communities is that most content is junk anyway, requiring mental effort from the reader to remove and avoid. That's what the whole voting thing is for. An advert would be "superjunk" - unwanted content that also has editorial control. It might be an illusion that a community is full of value to be skimmed off, when reality is that the junk is at barely maintainable levels and a little more might push it over the brink.

Reddit is already at the tipping point. I don't know if u ve checked out Mastodon or Riot but they look pretty good already. Basically everything non-heavily-leftist is looking for alternatives. My use of it is limited to some technical and well-moderated subreddits, the rest is just an endless parade of juvenile leftisness. Twitter has become more conductive for serendipitous discovery and lols these days, and they re getting better at helping ignore idiots.

I wonder if reddit has explored fostering or monetizing commerce that happens on reddit. Wherever people congregate there will often be commerce, formally or informally. But that presents its own set of problems as well.

I think problem with Reddit advertising is that you at least could not before doing laser-focused campaigns like try to advertise people who are subscribed to ReasonML and sysadmin subreddits.

Ad/brand driven reddit is the end of reddit and means that a new alternative will appear and we don't know yet what it'll be - finally exciting times for the web, again.

The notion that big brands do not want to advertise in "chaos" seems suspicious to me. In real life, there are Gucci ads right next to the homeless and drug addicts. People vandalize public ads with swastikas, Hitler beards and other sh*t, but brands do not care. Such incentives simply do not exist in real life, because nobody will realistically associate the ads with their coincidental context such as vandalism. I'm not seeing why this should be different on the internet. If it is, then I'd be interested in studies actually providing evidence for that.

I think Reddit is one of the only places on the internet that mirrors the diversity and messiness of the real world - but that's not the case for pretty much all the rest of the internet, so people's assumptions and expectations are based on that instead. In the real world, when Gucci has an ad next to a drug gang hideout, they don't worry that they will have to explain to anyone that they're not associated with or condoning the drug gang. That's not the expectation on the internet, because most websites represent a single business or community, not an entire city worth of communities. So advertisers rightfully fear the headlines like 'Gucci advertises on far-right forum' instead of 'Gucci advertises in city in which far right people also live'.

Yup. I think a lot of people - even here, of all places - also don't realize that Reddit and other generic social networks (Facebook, Instagram) aren't like HN. They're like the Internet. That is, /r/programming is to Reddit what HN is to WWW. Child porn groups on Instagram are to Instagram what child porn sites are to the whole Internet. All those social networks, allowing for bottom-up group creation, are micro-Internets over proprietary protocol (UI) on top of HTTP, with free, unsquatted and browser-configurable DNS equivalent.

Yeah, this is a thought that occurred to me right after making my first comment. I guess the only solution reconcilable with free speech should then be that one educates the public about the difference between a politically driven site and a politically neutral one. Neutral sites can easily be identified in that everyone can sign up and contribute. Advertising on any site that resembles the diversity of the public at large, and where ads are not placed based on political affiliation, should not be amenable to accusations based on moral grounds. Neither by law, nor should it be socially acceptable. So this is an issue of public education rather than an issue of cleaning up the internet.

That fact that reddit is starting to delete instead of doing public education is suspicious to me.

Pointy Hair Bosses don't go down to the streets. But they can go to reddit without having to come within 100ft of an uncouth homeless person.

Advertising on a neonazi blog is quite different than having a swastika tagged on top of your ad. The latter is quite clearly not your intent.

Reddit learned too late about the user generated content business: Don't get into the user generated content business.

Well, FB seems to be thriving on it.

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