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Aliens in the valley: The complete and chaotic history of Reddit (2014) (mashable.com)
48 points by polm23 on Nov 9, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments

How and why did "news aggregators" become more popular than regular forums?

Probably because you could talk about any topic. There is a low barrier for entry (easy signup). Mods take a more hands off approach. And users kinda moderate each other with upvotes/downvotes.

> Mods take a more hands off approach. And users kinda moderate each other with upvotes/downvotes.

This is what originally made Reddit awesome but the reversal of which has been slowly killing the fun. Mods have hijacked Reddit and turned all of the popular subreddits into their own pet newspapers which they are the chief editors/owner and only they themselves decide which content the users will enjoy.

You basically can't post any comment or post which doesn't fit with the popular opinions/ideology/etc of the sub without getting banned or rejected from most subreddits these days.

That was entirely unsurprising, especially these days, when it happened on the various shamelessly partisan political subreddits. But about two or three years ago I saw it start spreading into other areas like city/country subreddits or generic news subreddits. Now it's on all the major subreddits and based on the moderator newsletters and other admin posts the whole hyper-involved and super careful power-modding approach seems to be encouraged by the Reddit admins.

> This is what originally made Reddit awesome but the reversal of which has been slowly killing the fun. Mods have hijacked Reddit and turned all of the popular subreddits into their own pet newspapers which they are the chief editors/owner and only they themselves decide which content the users will enjoy.

That is true and I hate it.

A handful of people should never get to decide what millions can talk about.

But compared to oldschool forums, at least they don't butt into conversations too often and make things awkward.

It's definitely time for the Fourth Age (counting NNTP as the first), that combines the best things about oldschool forums with the best things about Reddit.

> It's definitely time for the Fourth Age

Agreed, do you have an ideas which would help push us forward?... this is clearly a step backwards, pushing us back towards the super-safe bigco communications world like 5-oclock TV news shows with pre-approved talking points.

Obviously developing new Reddit and Twitter alternatives that look like 2000s-era PHP shitholes aren't helping the problem.... or worse clones which merely pander to political extremists on the right or left or fringe groups which then scares off the moderates or politically disinterested.

> Agreed, do you have an ideas which would help push us forward?

I do, as I'm sure most of us do (have ideas).

But even if I manage to make an objectively better alternative, I can't guarantee that I won't become one of those mods :)

A recent post I made to a music community got removed because it was on the "do not post" songs list. I couldn't believe what I was reading. A music community that doesn't allow the users to post specific songs.

Sometimes topics have been done to death and you don't want to talk about it any more. Repeatedly having newcomers reintroducing a topic is quite grating, and often leads to long time community members ceasing to enjoy it. Like teenagers playing stairway to heaven in the guitar shop.

Also, can you share the specific song or banned list?

Political reddits are the worst. I am not aware of a single one that isn't a pure circle jerk. The libertarian one used to be this weird melting pot where you even had the odd Marxist or whatever engaging in actual intelligent discussion with Rothbardians and Randians and anarchists, but then it got taken over by pajama nazis.

Some of the smaller topical subreddits about science, space, and niche areas of tech and engineering are good. The further from politics the better it is.

The Jordan Peterson sub whilst not supposed to be political was good for thoughtful discussion about myth/philosophy/psychology ect for 2017-2018 and is now just political memes. They maintain an open policy at all times, not banning anyone or shutting down posters and as a result there is constant calls for more heavy moderating.

The redditors themselves want the authoritarian hand waved over the subs, because a lot of the time good quality content does not aggregate on reddit. I started an account here looking for the good stuff, hopefully thinkspot or something else will fill in the quality discussion blank on the web atm.

It s impossible to have a meaningful discussion with millions of subscribers. Seek smaller moderated subs.

Because they provide broad context. Forums are usually specified on a certain interest. You come to HN you can discuss everything from computers to astrophysics and from sex to transport. You go to a computer oriented forum and try to discuss about fertility issues then 95% of the comments are irrelevant. In here everyone focuses on the things they know. Same goes for Reddit. It's a community of communities.

> You go to a computer oriented forum and try to discuss about fertility issues then 95% of the comments are irrelevant.

To be clear, you’re including Hacker News in the “computer oriented forum”, right?

> In here everyone focuses on the things they know.

Haha, nope

The article serves as a prompt for top-level comments. Back in the forum days it really depended on if someone had a question, etc. When I was single digits age my first social internet experiences were on a near-death/paranormal forum. After a couple of years every topic had been exhausted and questions and conversations reoccurred more and more. It got boring.

Because you need a non threatening but highly engaging reason to talk to strangers all over the world. Very personal stuff is potentially highly engaging, but inherently problematic and threatening. Err too far on the side of "safe" and now people are bored and have no reason to say anything.

1. "Hot"-style ranking

2. Non-dogshit UI

I liked the UI of digg a lot better, it was cleaner and had thumbnails. I mainly went to reddit for programming stuff back in the day.

I think 2 codependent things ruined digg before the redesign though:

(1) Users started to game the rankings so that the content was less diverse.

(2) The admin's response to that gaming started to cripple the "newness" of posts such that the content on the front page was a lot older than on reddit.

These two factors are starting to ruin reddit too, only now instead of MrBabyMan or whoever doing it for fun/money, it seems like it's actual foreign interference or something just as nefarious.

The UI is really important. Ive been on Reddit now for 13 years. I still use the old.reddit and desktop mode. With nightshift and RES and hoverzoom.

It probides the best information density and consumability.

The new reddit ui sucks. Mucking with UI/UX can spell death gir a site, as it did with digg.

I will never ho to the new york times as an example of how to have a shitty UX.

> I still use the old.reddit and desktop mode.

Same here! I hate the redesign with a passion. Most of my Redditor friends are the same.

I hate the new design so much I'll actually stop using reddit whenever they sunset the old layout. And I use reddit a lot.

And I really really hate v.reddit their embedded video player. I am getting irrationally angry just thinking about it and how it's making the internet a worse place.

It's full of problems. It'll often fail to load, or load parts in a poor quality that will not improve. You can't easily download them either. I don't even click on posts that have a v.redd.it link anymore.

Unless we are victims of A/B testing I'm 90% sure old.reddit.com doesn't work anymore. Care to screenshot me the old Reddit design¿?

Nice, can I get a link for that you've got there?

For me it's just https://www.reddit.com/r/all/

But you have to select "opt out of redesign" somewhere in your preference settings.




Set your preferences to NOT use the new reddit, and then tell it you want "destop site"


I think it's the shift to mobile first design. Old reddit was a desktop site, new site is designed for mobile first.

A couple of pretty rational reasons.

Threaded-forums had a format, which I would argue is specifically designed around their fundamental premise: asynchronous small group single-threaded discussion(even if they have a tree-based format of categorisation to help get to the specific thread/topic).

That works out great for a small,tightly-knit community, and one where you recognise or want to recognise who it is you're actually talking to and are genuinely interested in a long-form discussion. But that doesn't scale well, for several reasons:

1) Humans can only keep track of a small number of identities.

2) Most people aren't genuinely interested in participating in discussion (that is to say, amongst the general cateogry of humans, and by discussion I mean a back and forth sharing of ideas/information), let alone "long-form" discussion over a significant period of time.

3) On forums you're consistently stuck having to follow the path of a given thread, whether the path it takes interests you or not or veers off on a tangent.

4) The typical format of the forum was weighted towards a classification-drilling-down-search to find specific topics on which one specifically interested, rather than a 'bubbling up' of statistical popularity as the foremost mechanism.

Now there are exceptions to all those and forums have differed over time, but bear with me and give me the benefit of the doubt.

Now take something like reddit or hacker news.

Aside from a very high-level categorisation up front (individual reddit communities/the fact that you're the kind of person who actually visits hacker news), everything is just kinda thrown in together and sorted by some measure of recency+popularity: maximising exposure to the lowest common denomintor conditional upon people already signalling they're interested. And the time-weighting is actually just a conditioned way of always giving the impression of freshness and encouraging the desire to check back regularly.

The account names/identities of who you're 'talking' to are now almost irrelevant, because no one can actually keep track of identities across such a large community: with the exception that proves the rule amongst large-scale communities: the celebrity. A handful of well-known accounts that it is partly assumed the general culture will be familiar with. But other than that, its largely effectively anonymous.

The upvote mechanism biases automatically towards popularity, maximising exposure to potential audience. And the tree-nature of the comment threads allows individuals to quickly go to the ones that interests them...but...

By being hostile to depth (it is a pain on both reddit and hn to read anything more than a cursory N steps deep), and allowing the ignoring of individual branches of non-interest, the format again optimises for short-term, shallow, popularity-driven behaviours: perfect for optimisation towards mass adoption.

And lastly, we need to be honest: 90% of people aren't here for discussion (again, the format itself is actually actively hostile to long-form in-depth long-time discussion). They're here to read new content (roughly 24 hour time-based decay of the front page), popular content (upvote-mechanisms, avoiding threads and trees that don't interest them), and when they do post its not because they want to engage with an actual person (they cannot follow that many usernames relative to the size of the community and the format cuts off being practical at a very shallow N deep message length), but like the comment section of the newspaper, its because they have a psychological need to state their opinion/express their worldview/show their knowledge.

Facebook and twitter also have these properties to varying degrees, some of them more explicitly targeting these properties or trying to tailor them to the individual user's demand/desires. Facebook tries to do this literally down to the person's personal detail level and explicitly maximising eyeball time, whereas the likes of reddit achieve this through the channels (users self-select into the interesting communities) and then the upvote mechanism drives exposure within-channels/across-site.

In short, the medium of news-aggregators is specifically suitable for high-scale popularity. Constant quick turnover to deliver returning eyeballs, allows users to filter easily to their needs, low barrier to entry, explicitly tied to popularity to maximize audience, explicitly pushing overly-specialised/alienating conversation off the front page by limiting deep/long-time period discussions and pushing those discussions off-site.

> they cannot follow that many usernames relative to the size of the community

By a quick estimate I “know” a couple hundred people on here: their usernames, some trivia about where they work and what their interests are, and what their opinions have been on previous topics; this subset leans heavily towards regular commenters and people who I interact with. On random topics this usually means that maybe 10% of the comments I see are from this group, but on specialized topics (security, compilers, UI toolkits) more than half of the comments I see are from them.

The most pertinent point in that is meant to be 'relative to the size of the community'.

There are small communities on reddit that act somewhat like the old-school forums (and presumably a small handful on hacker news, although its a bit harder to happen on-site here due to the lack of the channel mechanism, so if it DOES happen here, its more liable to be because of some connection to a real-world/pre-existing network or a specialised subject-matter selectively clicking on stories and augmenting their communication within the greater online community of HN).

My point is, among the wider HN community, unless your friends fall into the handful of 'celebrity' accounts, those names that you know would likely be anonymous names to most commenters who identify as/are identified as HN posters.

The point is ALSO though, that you're able to do this while maintaining the HN identity, and the HN forum interface, even though relative to HN accounts the accounts of your friends are tangentially approaching 0% of users. And you do this because the news-aggregator mechanisms allow you to self-select into the posts relevant to your interests with very little effort, so you don't FEEL like you're excluding from the community/or being excluded against, even though you're not reading most material and they're not reading yours, and most have no idea who anyone else on the platform actually is.

Scaling like this isn't realistically an option for "Cyberspace security, compiler and UI toolkits forum: your number one place for security, compiler and UI toolkits discussions!".

The last points that i didnt mention was also opportunity cost (in terms of how many networks individuals can actively participate in) and network effects (where do most/key individuals end up spending their time resources). The popularity-based metrics of the news aggregator sites are extremely powerful draws of the majority eyeballs relative to the webforums, and then network effects emit another draw even if there are holdout users who prefer web-forums.

Note that very few of the people that I'm talking about are those that I'd call "friends" (and they probably feel the same): they're generally high volume accounts who I have binned based on their views on recurring topics, so I guess they'd be "celebrity" accounts in some sense. Since Hacker News is a small community, this usually gets me a higher recognition rate than you'd otherwise expect; even though I self select by pretty much reading most comment threads about my interests I do glance at a significant fraction of posts that hit the front page even if they're not something I know much about.

A better ranking system is the key

Should we rank ? Boards let people like each other implicitely. You may be boring but you'll end up being the boring guy in the group.

Waiting for one to show up. We need a better ranking system for content that doesn't confuse "popularity" with "quality". Every comment/article moderation system that has crowdsourced upvotes and downvotes suffers from this. It inevitably leads to groupthink, herd opinion, and shutdown culture.

I'm really curious what @dang's thought's are on moderation and a better voting system, especially since HN seems to be growing in popularity by quite a bit every year.

I genuinely think slashdot did it best, being able to upvote comments for different reasons. Be they "funny" or "insightful" and then letting you sort by what you preferred to see.

That kind of system loses its point too, like on Facebook etc.

For example I could mark your comment "Funny" to "laugh at you for even suggesting such a thing" :)

Votes on HN are basically meaningless and counter productive now.

It's easy to farm them by hopping on the winning bandwagon on divisive topics.

There's too much grudge downvoting just like Reddit.

I keep seeing perfectly valid, reasonable and polite comments being grayed out just because they didn't hop on the wagon.

Worst of all, downvotes are abused to prevent OTHER people from seeing what someone is saying.

How do you counter that?

I think there should be a cost to upvoting or downvoting, so they can't be handed out willy-nilly.

Dude, you're here just six months and you already decided that the system doesn't work? I'm here 8 years and I haven't had a single problem with how voting works. When I'm downvoted it's because I say something snarky, generalized, or stupid. HN is by far the most healthy moderated community on the web.

The easy counter is to stop graying out downvoted posts. An even easier counter is to get rid of the downvotes entirely. Have a reporting system to take care of the rule-breakers. For everyone else, bad posts will generally not be upvoted and will thus lurk in the bottom of the page. Underneath all the upvoted comments.

That’s not perfect but I think it would be an improvement over the current system. As an added bonus, it would eliminate the “why am I downvoted” noise.

Slashdot had a nice system back in the day. People were randomly selected to rank posts. You had to give a reason (from a list) for your ranking. And posts would max out at 5 points or have a floor of -1. Maybe that wouldn’t scale to Reddit but it was a fairly humane way of doing things that was a bit resistant to mobs and bots.

> I think there should be a cost to upvoting or downvoting, so they can't be handed out willy-nilly.

It would be really interesting to run an experiment where this was taken literally. If upvotes/karma/whatever you call it were to be treated as almost a type of currency, and submitting a vote directly cost you a vote from your “balance” what would the discussions look like. You could even deal with inflation by lowering the value of votes people already have by increasing the cost for a new vote.

I don’t think this would get you away from the groupthink and pandering comments, as people would probably try to appeal to the widest audience so they could bank more votes, but I’d love to see if it would cause people to post more meaningful comments as opposed to predictable jokes.

Maybe give people unlimited upvotes but a budget of downvotes, say 3 per day or 3 per article. This wouldn't prevent multiple accounts colluding to brigade a thread or person, but it might help stop the casual, uncoordinated drive-by downvoting.

Or, make people actually type in why they're downvoting before it counts. Again, wouldn't stop a motivated attacker or coordinated attackers, but could add just the right amount of friction.

Hacker News does frequently upvote popular opinions, just like Reddit, but I’ve found that substantiated “unpopular” or surprising opinions aren’t treated as harshly. Often they actually do rather well!

> It's easy to farm them by hopping on the winning bandwagon on divisive topics.

> I think there should be a cost to upvoting or downvoting, so they can't be handed out willy-nilly.

Would a cost to voting not encourage farming points?

Aside from the 500 points (or whatever it is now) hurdle to be able to downvote (on HN, and similar though not the same hurdle for /.'s meta moderation), internet points are surely just internet points and any mechanism that made them more would end up in farming / community-moderated voice would tend to the farmers.

> internet points are surely just internet points

Except when they're used to promote misinformation and bury facts.

Quality takes time to grow. How do you do that on constantly refreshing threads/articles?

Because as always, the average user is boring and adds nothing to an online discussion.

Reddit allows the average user to participate, but their crap will not be visible to other users unless they willingly sort by new.


Even on Hacker News I’d say that the average commenter has very little to add to a discussion (I’m not excluding myself from this, FYI). Especially if the topic being discussed is “news” about a popular company (I’m sure you’ve seen “Facebook bad”, “Apple is locked down and their keyboards suck”, “Google will sunset this”). Technical articles generally get better results but only for topics that aren’t really divisive (“Electron bad”, “C insecure”).

I don’t agree. HN is the only site I go to where I go to the comments first before reading the article. I treat the comments like cliff notes and sometimes there are competing view points which adds to the fervor. I sometimes post links simply because I want to hear more context with discussion.

> I treat the comments like cliff notes and sometimes there are competing view points which adds to the fervor.

They're often the same competing viewpoints, though. Especially on easy to understand, divisive topics.

Sometimes I wish we had a “common knowledge base” with all those points, so that we could move beyond beating the same dead horse, as a community. Any post about JS or C is just dreadful. And I’m completely guilty, myself. :S

I’ve considered writing up things I bring up frequently on my blog so I can just link people to that instead of taking the time to rewrite the same thing over and over…

Reddit mods and admins have too much power. this has gotten worse since 2014. so many subs have unpublished user requirements to post that you need an old Reddit account with at least 100 comment karma and 1000 link karma to have full use of the site. new reddit accounts are fucking useless

Having been a moderator before it was easy to impose such restrictions, I'm very glad for them. It was effectively impossible to ban anybody because account creation is so trivial.

And yes, it's important to be able to ban people. Even the subreddit I moderate that's dedicated to a niche hobby and populated almost entirely by nice, helpful people has had an incident or two of serious targeted harassment. Those that touch on more controversial issues or potentially involve money have a high volume of abusive behavior.

not forgetting the paid trolls, bots.

It always felt to me that the audience of reddit is a lot less than whats bragged. And that they use bots to prop up the numbers.

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