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How reddit became reddit - the biggest smallest community online (alexisohanian.com)
153 points by kn0thing on Feb 18, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

Reddit surrendered almost complete control to the community. It led to some pretty amazing emergent behavior, but it had a very high price. Today the site is far more 4chan and much less Reddit circa 2006.

I think Reddit is kind of a brilliant failure. It's huge and impressive now, but so much more shallow and flawed than it could have been.

Taken in aggregate, I agree.

But take a look at this reddit, for instance: http://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/

There are deep ends to this very big pool that is reddit. Plenty of kiddy-sections, too, where the water is warm and attention spans are short.

e.g., Free endorphins! http://aww.reddit.com

/r/ is, I think, the defining quality of reddit - it's a very elegant solution to the (x) is turning into (y) problem. /r/truereddit is already a pretty strong contingent of people pining for 06 reddit. But when all the cool redditors start hanging out on /r/truereddit, it will be choked with complaints that it's becoming like vanilla reddit. And thus, http://www.reddit.com/r/truetruereddit

No, then they'll all just move to http://newslily.com ;-)

Really, guys? -4 for mentioning one of my projects in a joke?

And -4 more for complaining. What do you think this is, Reddit?

No, I don't think this is reddit, which I why I asked the question.

I think my favorite reddit is


Lots of tabloidy Jerry Springer show sex stuff but also lots of fascinating people too.

I think http://www.reddit.com/r/circlejerk is also great. It's a reddit dedicated to making fun of the rest of reddit. What other site has a section devoted to making fun of itself?

For me, the issue of anonymous vs non-anonymous IAmAs is interesting because it shows some of the flaws of "legacy" PR based on controlling the message. Ideally every organization should move to PR 2.0 and away from controlling the message which would resolves many of the issues, but of course that will take a long time.

A reddit relevant to the issue of procrastination


may be of interest to some people here.

It is a little garish in the reddit sense but, just like with pornography, aesthetic qualities aren't that relevant as long as it serves its purpose.

The trouble is that it feels like the shallow parts are growing much, much faster than the deep ends. There's pockets of good stuff, but you have to look harder for it. If you like the shallow sections too, then it's a great pool to play in. But if you came for the deep ends, it's kind of a pain to swim with all kids in the shallow end splashing everywhere.

Maybe I'm just bitter.

Reddit is like the Internet. The weird tentacle porn sites are there, but you aren't obligated to subscribe to them.

You can unsubscribe from the subreddits you dislike.

Yes, I realize that. I've even started a few (report the spammers and postrock). You can't unsubscribe from the culture. If programming or minecraft end up filled with memes and crap, you're out of luck unless you can get enough momentum for a similar new subreddit.

You can't unsubscribe from the culture.

This is one of the most profound things I've ever heard, and it has applications well outside of Reddit.

I've found /r/soccer is pretty low on the "internet culture" stuff. And /r/gamedev, while too small to sustain much interesting discussion, does provide good links.

But yes, any large subreddit on any topic is infected with all the rage comic and meme garbage that Reddit inexplicably loves. You have to figure that the average age must be around 18-20, which becomes very tiresome if you're more than a few years older than that.

And main frontpage reddit.

Just like real life, I suppose.

/r/programming has become more like a generic technology link dump. The few programming-related links it does get tend to be either about functional-programming-language-of-the-month or a pointless JavaScript demo.


Maybe it's the sort you're using. Reddit link discussions can go on for weeks and months. You can hop in with a top of the week sort and read a good discussion, and still find active threads.

A lot of the complaints I see about reddit feel like the complaints people have jumping into Linux from Windows.

Linux isn't Windows, and reddit isn't Hacker News. Learn how to operate it, and you'll find out why people like it.

ETA: http://i.imgur.com/UWdeU.png

My biggest problem with this is that if a post that doesn't belong gets upvoted it'll reach the front page, and once it reaches the front page all of the worst parts of Reddit flood into the comment threads.

/r/coding has stricter moderation, but much much less content is posted there. People generally want to post their links where they'll garner the most karma, and cross-posting feels kinda dirty.

I think the percentage of good technical posts on /r/Programming is competitive with HN, if not superior, to be honest.

I think that's one of the greatest things. There is something for everyone, from almost everywhere. The bigger stuff gets noisy and you see forks into smaller things where people create a different atmosphere, often about similar topics/niched more.

Sometimes I just want to go /r/aww other times, I'd like to checkout info about /r/<country> or /r/<city>. Not to mention sports like /r/hockey that has a subreddit for every team plus the overall. So I can talk about the stuff only caps fans care about and go to the main one to talk about hockey in general.

Make Reddit a meaningful/useful/productive experience requires some work and some self control.

When I realized that I was wasting a lot of time on useless things on Reddit, I removed most of the default sub-reddits from my profile (Pics, WTF, funny, etc), and added dramatically smaller subreddits (AndroidDev, Seattle, Parkour).

Now my experience is useful and tailored extensively to my interests, and I don't waste time looking at funny pictures of cats.

The default setup in Reddit is based around appealing to what a large number of users want - entertainment.

Speaking as a long-time reddit user - yes, I remember when it was originally catering to the developer/coder/sysadmin community.

But I also knew that those interests are held by only a fraction of users on the internet. I completely understood that if the reddit team wanted to turn their site into a money making endeavor, they'd have to start catering to the lowest common denominator. And hell - even the original design of the site was going to cause that: It's social news, as dictated by the user base.

All it took was time for enough non-dev types to find the site and then poof the majority of the news would be nothing like when reddit started.

But you know where reddit succeeded? Sub-reddits.

I can customize my frontpage view to be a combination of all the hot / recent content contained only by the sub-reddits that I'm a member of.

Want to improve your reddit experience? Unsubscribe from the reddit.com (main) sub-reddit.

Here's an example of what I'm subscribed to:

apple, blog, BritishTV, carlhprogramming, coding, cogsci, Cyberpunk, datasets, Favors, freegames, gadgets, gaming, geek, iphone, lego, lounge, macapps, MachineLearning, Malware, Minecraft, opendirectories, opensource, ParticlePhysics, Physics, programming, Python, redditdev, redditmakesagame, redditstories, ReverseEngineering, roguelikes, science, snackexchange, software, SomebodyMakeThis, systems, tipofmytongue, todayilearned, trackers, truereddit, worldnews

And I add new sub-reddits all the time. Because of this wonderful system, I can "turn off the stupid" and ignore the sub-reddits where the lolcats/etc. are being posted (or, if you like them, you can subscribe to /r/lolcats).

Every now and again I log out and check what the reddit.com main page looks like without an account - shake my head - then log back in again.

I still love the site. I just consider the other users a necessary evil for reddit to get the funding to keep adding new devs, features, and hardware to make it bigger and better than it ever was.

http://www.reddit.com/r/SomebodyMakeThis is quite relevant to HN, don't overlook it.

You can click the "All" link in the upper left hand corner while logged in if you want to see uncustomized reddit.

Yeah, except that I've got settings like disabling image previews and such turned on (similar to the old reddit style) that don't take effect when you do that.

Well, turns out you taught me something!

An uncustomized front page may be 'shallow and flawed', but if you subscribe to serious subreddits it becomes one of the most useful sites on the internet. Tons of 'small' communities that you learn from and want to contribute to.

You're right in that the front page now is very different from page of 2006. You have to explore now and work a little harder to find the good communities.

But when you do, you'll find that it is just as it was in 2006, maybe even a little better.

And in 06, you may have had to work a little harder to find reddit.

The most recent and best example is when a bunch of Redditors attacked some girl doing a cancer fundraiser:


You mean the girl who the Reddit community eventually realized was telling the truth and helped raise an extra $5000 in a day? http://gawker.com/#!5752773/vigilante+targeted-cancer-fundra...

The site continues to be useful to many people primarily because of subreddits.

I still remember when subreddits were first introduced. All the users were certain this was a bad idea and that reddit should have implemented tagging instead. Now nobody mentions tagging. And most people don't remember reddit without subreddits.

And PG got impatient and created HN because this feature wasn't available fast enough. :P

The subreddit problem is why I started reading HN instead of proggit.

Anyone is allowed to squat on a subreddit and censor it to their whims. What is the result of this? You get moderators (who's name I will not mention for obvious reasons) who flood the subreddit with Haskell blog posts and bypass the Reddit spam filter. I remember seeing 4-5 Haskell stories every single day on reddit with low votes for many months.

When you try to submit your own story, you will likely get caught in Reddit's "shadow ban" spam filter where it looks like it was submitted but it never shows up in the "new" section. When you contact one of these "moderators", half of them won't respond and someone will fix it 24 hours later where it will appear on page 5, dooming it to never appear on the front page. The other mods then complain you were wasting their time because they checked it after 24 hours.

I did a little experiment where I submitted a Haskell related story. It was "shadow banned" for a mere 10 minutes (probably after one of the mods fished it out of the spam filter). Then I tried submitting other programming related news from HN, most of which never appeared. That was when I stopped participating in Reddit.

You might also be interested to know that Reddit censored the Athiesm subreddit off the front of the page so they didn't exactly grow organically.


Did you even read the link you put in your comment? reddit did not "censor" anything. We simply fixed the the algorithm that was accidentally ranking that reddit too high. It was never popular enough to be in the top 10.

We simply fixed the the algorithm that was accidentally ranking that reddit too high.

At the time you censored the atheism subreddit, it had just about as many subscribers as the other top 10 subreddits at the time. You decided to arbitrarily change the algorithm until it seemed right to you.

"we added the ability to prevent certain reddits from appearing in the top ten"

The number of subscribers is not the metric we used. We use a metric we call "activity". The behavior described in that blog post simply pointed out a bug in the activity metric.

Also, to be pedantic, it is not possible for reddit to censor anyone. Governments censor things, private entities do not.

To be pedantic, censorship is not limited to the government. Being private does not let you avoid the label of censorship.

And yes I know the metric is called "activity". It is just too suspicious that you let it rank well all these years and let it disappear from the front page just because a far smaller subreddit (by subscriber) was on the front page.

Did you even read the link you put in your comment? reddit did not "censor" anything. We simply fixed the the algorithm that was accidentally ranking that reddit to high. It was never popular enough to be in the top 10.

I don't see why tagging is a bad thing. It essentially allows sub-Reddits to still exist while providing people an opportunity to submit content to multiple relevant topics.

Subreddits allow curation by group and group-specific discussions instead of classification en masse. It also allows private (you have to apply for membership/not publicly viewable) groups and community-specific discussions.

There are different subreddits for 'programming', 'compsci', and 'python' for example. For a link relevant to all three it isn't always desirable to have a giant group discussion. Similarly, there are subreddits for 'science', 'askscience', 'softscience', 'sciencepolicy', etc. All which might have articles that, if reddit had tagging, would be tagged for science. And there's like 50 different subreddits about smoking weed. All serving different communities. Or maybe they just forgot where the pot smoking subreddit was so they keep creating new ones. The point is, tags would be all inclusive.

Crossposting isn't really a problem and is often desired. You can see all discussions related to a link by clicking on the "other discussions" tab when viewing the comments.

I completely agree that the group-specific discussion is pretty useful.

I slightly disagree about crossposting not being a problem. On major issues that populate multiple Reddits, it gets cumbersome to see the same headline used on multiple Reddits, such as say Reddit.com/WorldNews/News. It's the only way to get around the lack of a tagging system. How does one choose which discussion to follow? It's easier for me to look at comments in one 'thread' about one incident or specific story rather than four or more, especially when the same arguments/observations are made.

On AskReddit, people post a lot of questions that should be in other subreddits but it's still upvoted anyway. Some do this because the applicable subreddit's aren't discoverable and so they don't know they exist. Others do it because AskReddit has such a vast number of subscribers more than the related sub-reddits.

With tagging, it's also easier to discover new communities/tags. How do I discover a new Reddit outside of hearing some person in the comments talk about something? With tagging it's clear as day.

Is that floating Posterous bar[1] on the bottom of the page new? Geocities used to do the exact same thing...

[1] http://i.imgur.com/3JFeq.png

As a Posterous user this makes me cringe.

This, the GoDaddy bar in the admin panel that can't be made to go away and the spammer "subscriber" I can't delete even though he's not an admin definately have cheapened the experience. And the worst part is I can't even pay to make it go away like I could with wordpress.com.

God, that's horrendous.

It certainly turns me off Posterous -- quite strongly. I simply cannot stand stuff like that.

Just hide it with a userscript - the element ID is "posterous_footerbar".

I believe so. That, or I've only noticed it in the last few days.

If you are not logged in to Posterous, you would get this bar. I think it's a recent change.

> "I wish more people would listen to me when I suggest copying the reddit "hotness" algorithim & commenting system"

We did with Yak, which has many features of Reddit plus several original ones and different positioning. Agree that hotness and un-sucky comment surfacing are the "secret sauce" of Reddit. Not quite ready to open the doors, but taking emails at http://yak.to

Hey there. Can I get my invite code now? :)

Gimme 48 hours, then you and Alexis are in first, I promise.

I wouldn't mind an invite, if you have a few extra laying around.

me too

Me three!

Me four!

Hurray! Tweeting about ya.

Now you've gotta deliver those invites ;)

So what is yak.to?

"If users see how much the staff cares, they'll care too."

I don't think that's right, I think if users see how much the staff want the same things as the users, then they'll care. I'm sure the Digg staff cared about the success of Digg, but it didn't match what the users wanted so they lost interest.

No doubt. But I mean 'care' in the touchy-feely sense of the word. Maybe there was someone there who obsessed over creating those 'magical' moments for users, but I can't say I've heard too many anecdotes about that.

I read it back and realised I misunderstood what you meant, understanding it as being about the "magical moments" what you said makes sense, I was looking it as you meant caring about what all users want, not what individuals with support requests get. In hindsight I have no idea how I came to that conclusion, the previous section makes it clear :-)

Reddit is interesting. There's a lot of crap there now and memes are way too frequent. However, there are still some great and high-quality subreddits. I've improved my browsing experience there by removing popular reddits like /r/pics, /r/funny, /r/politics, etc. Then I added new ones like /r/askscience, /r/space, and /r/worldnews. That's the best thing about the site. You don't like a community, just remove it or don't join.

Seeing the evolution of reddit in screenshots was simply awesome. http://reddit.blogspot.com/2006/12/time-machine.html

While I agree the users are in control for the most part, I can't help but think of one issue that pushed Steve and Alexi toward leaving reddit, that is, the censorship during the Sears debacle. I think there have been other cases where Conde Nast had to step in and lay down the law as well.

By scraping off the top end (intelligence-wise) of 4chan, that's how.)

> the next thing hundreds of thousands of people are spending their workday reading and participating in.

...is that really a good thing?

I recently abandoned Reddit because I realized that keeping abreast of memes wasn't helping me accomplish my goals in life. Also, the illusory superiority thing gets hard to take. At least on HN it's more restricted to start-up vs. big-co and open vs MS, which I can take in stride. :-)

I always hoped /r/startups would take off as a complement to Hacker News, but I'm the first to admit this is my #2 destination after reddit (though sometimes its #1). Hacker News is the best kind of distraction because it feels productive. Mmmm... Hacker News...

That reddit will never take off because "startup" is not a common a word outside the Silicon Valley social bubble.


I doubt that has anything to do with it.../r/startups has more subscribers than /r/Entrepreneur does...


A lot of reddits fizzle out. There's no mechanism that removes people from a reddit, so it could appear a reddit is lively if you only look at subscriber count.

People post stories, but there's very little discussion.

It looks like both reddits are dead.

While some of the discussion can be quite distracting, others can be quite productive. For example, if you're a web design person, you'll probably learn something from http://www.reddit.com/r/web_design

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