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Ask HN: What is the secret of Reddit's success? Early adopters?
44 points by zeynalov on Feb 11, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments
I'm going to build a community portal for my country, something between HN and Reddit. But I'm not sure if it will be loved by people. Does anyone know how reddit made it's popularity among the users and why many people like to use it. Some possible reasons:

- Early adopters which were friends of Alexis and Steve, constantly used Reddit and helped to build the community.

- Simplicity of user interface.

- New and better discussion forums. Revolutionary voting system. A good commenting system.

- They did guerrilla marketing.

- They paid for advertising.

They faked it until they made it, they created fake accounts and submitted / commented to pretend there was activity when there wasn't. A community needs people to work.

Alexis has some good stories / info on his blog: http://alexisohanian.com/how-reddit-became-reddit-the-smalle...

If you want to know what the non-technical co-founder did those first couple of weeks, it was a lot of submissions under a dozen or so usernames. Fortunately, Steve & I only had to do that for a few weeks. The first bump we got in traffic was from a Paul Graham essay, which gave us a great initial community -- setting the bar rather high, actually.

edit: also, that link from my blog pretty much sums up why I think we succeeded.

Everything in kn0thing's blog is obviously spot on. However, don't underestimate what a little bit of luck can do when combined with smart + hard-working people.

I can see the fundamental flaw here. Anyone can think of a better way to solve it? I am no fan of real name policies, but this is still a horrible solution.

One of the reasons I was so excited to help Steve & Adam launch hipmunk.com was that it was a totally anti-social website. If I could run all the marketing/pr/community-etc stuff and achieve a similar result with a site that was devoid of any community, maybe we were on to something.

Fortunately, launching hipmunk was 100x easier than reddit because unlike in 2005, there are far more platforms for people to share things they like online today (reddit being one of them).

There was a certain lull point in Reddit, where it was still great for what it was, but it had lost the intellectual early adopter set but had not yet become the cultural juggernaut that it is now. Maybe it was right before the Digg exodus? I'm not quite sure of the timing, but guessing you know what I mean.

Do you have any input on what happened to take Reddit from where it was two or three years ago to where it is now?

Consistency. The power of user-created subreddits took years to really gain momentum. For the first year or so I was spending a lot of my time raising awareness for communities we'd created that seemed like obvious fits (like /r/gaming) doing things like running house ads and being a good moderator of the subreddit -- things that our awesome mods are now doing themselves.

I encourage you to subscribe to subreddits like http://truereddit.reddit.com/ if you're missing the old days. There's a wealth of great, smaller subreddits that maintain the intellectual roots. http://philosophy.reddit.com/ too!

By consistency, I mean even after Steve & I left, the team continued to maintain the course and endured a lot of ups and downs in the process. What they've done is really impressive.

I think the Digg exodus is what really pushed it over in terms of numbers.

Yup, I saw him speak.

A great way to digg into this topic is by reading interviews and listening to podcast interviews with Alexis. For example, if you're a Mixergy member (or have been subscribed to the podcast to see this interview still in the feed), http://mixergy.com/no-reddit-didnt-copy-digg-heres-how-it-wa... was a great interview.

The interface is part of the reason -- it's easy to navigate, and conversational threads are clearly laid out. There is an alert icon that tells you if someone has replied to one of your earlier posts, something missing from many social-media sites. You click the alert icon, and all the replies are listed in chronological order, simplifying the management of multiple conversations.

The public "font page" display is also intelligently laid out, with posts that have been read and upvoted ranked according to popularity.

And there is a voting scheme -- although controversial, the voting "karma" system allows the system to rearrange posts by popularity without any effort or intervention.

The site is broken into forums, and users can create a new forum if they care to.

I used Usenet for many years before there was a Web, and Reddit reminds me in some ways of those days (but it has a better interface).

I just realized that your fan statistics probably get inflated by me telling you on different sites how much I used to love Arachnophilia, so I won't do it here too.

But I did.

Okay that was funny. :)

when reddit launched, they didn't have comments or subreddits at all

I don't mean this in a bad way, but I think Luck was the single biggest factor.

I agree with this and have said so on a number of occasions, but it's not very useful advice ;)

Subreddits (anyone can have their own reddit...on reddit) and the messaging/reply system in my opinion.

I believe the big surge to Reddit was when Digg put up version 4 and a drove off a lot of its members. A lot of the older members of Reddit tend to lament how it went from a decent place to what it is now (reposts, etc.) which is why I think the Digg implosion was so important to Reddit's success. My guess, then, is that part of why Reddit is popular is because of the hands-off approach of the site's owners and moderators as opposed to sponsored posts and that sort of thing. The mods there step in really only when absolutely necessary and haven't really messed with the way the site runs.

Reddit was successful prior to Digg going to version 4. They just received more users after Digg's move. I wonder how many...

But your second point on the owners letting reddit run itself is spot on. They just made sure the site worked (most of the time ;D) and basically let people govern themselves. But what really ties it in, is subreddits. If a mod on a subreddit ruins something or acts like a jerk, the people are free to setup a new subreddit, circumventing the overlord of the previous sub.

Then there's the simple UI.

And most of all, the people. The people posted interesting stories to the main subreddits. It's kind of disappointing to see the noise level increasing against the signal lately but that's where subreddits come in.

I almost see HN as the new reddit, but with a new feature, filtering out downvotes of new people. I come to HN and a few specific subreddits for intelligent conversation, then the main reddit page for OMG CATS.


Oh yes, I got flamed by Arrington for predicting it, but diggv4 had to have been some VCs getting hungry for a return they'd expected before the fickle market turned.


Conversely, Steve and I always talked about 'letting users do the hard stuff.' The more power and ownership we could give them (with guidelines) the more they impressed us. See things like /r/IAMA and /r/Skyrim for a couple examples of genius in idea & execution we alone never could've come up with.

As for traffic, reddit's traffic the Monday before diggv4 was about 600k uniques and 900k the Monday after.

It pretty much skyrocketed from there. Last month reddit had 34M uniques and 2.3B pvs. All after Steve & I left, too. Correlation or causation, I leave up to you.

If you are talking popularity, the sale to Condé Nast has to factor. Without this sale Reddit might have made it. The sale turbo charged user adoption ~ http://techcrunch.com/2006/10/31/breaking-news-conde-nastwir...

The biggest single factor is probably applying to YC.

"The sale turbo charged user adoption"

That's simply not true. Traffic continued to grow rather steadily after the acquisition, largely because Conde wisely didn't interfere very much, but it certainly didn't 'turbo charge' it.

We were lucky enough to be in the very first round of Y Combinator, which meant far less to people back then compared to now. The mentorship, talks, and friends in the program were invaluable, though.

To my knowledge this is the first article ever written on YC: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2005/09/68710

"... That's simply not true. Traffic continued to grow rather steadily after the acquisition, largely because Conde wisely didn't interfere very much, but it certainly didn't 'turbo charge' it. ..."

excellent to confirm I'm wrong from the source.

NP! However, diggv4 provided a big boost. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3580800

For me it was the UI / commenting system. I had been a lurker on slashdot for years but never made a comment. Then I went to reddit and was commenting 5 times a day because it was so light weight and easy and was totally pseudononymous. (re: the last point - I have not made one single public comment on Google+, while I have made thousands on reddit. Reddit has just the right balance of pseudonymity). I also think that making it possible to edit or delete your comment after writing it, which was quite radical at the time, improved the average quality of conversations enormously. The very few poor quality posts I made were either voted to oblivion, edited to improve them within 5 minutes or deleted if I realized I should never have opened my mouth.

For you pseudonymity is good, but would it not be better for other users to see a real human thoughts instead of comments of some anonymous nickname? For example, I prefer to speak to real human.

> would it not be better for other users to see a real human thoughts instead of comments of some anonymous nickname?

I think that's a false premise. My thoughts are no less human because of coming from a nickname. While I'd agree there's a tradeoff (some people will be total assholes) on the balancing side you actually get far more honest (and 'human') thoughts from me because I'm pseudonymous than you do if you ask me to broadcast publicly.

Pseudonymity is good and gives user more confident when they face a wider bigger social base.

Keep it real is more effective with small circles & friends

We're all anonymous nicknames here, and it does work well

That said, it's a lot easier to attract trolls with nicknames than with their real faces...

Facebook login provides the holy grail of that: a (likely) real user behind an anonymous nickname. You can also judge the user by how many friends they have on FB, in terms of whether they're likely to be a real person.

That said, some developers hate using FB for anything, and some users hate connecting with their FB accounts.

Most people hate their jobs. Give those people a safe way to waste time at work and they will. The Reddit spartan UI (blue links/white background) looks like you are being productive even when you are not.

Haha! Never thought of that. It's just because Steve and I were 21-year-olds without much design talent. I still hate myself for picking Verdana....


I know a lot of people have already said it but I'm going to agree with digg being one of the biggest reasons reddit has done so well. I was amongst the top users on digg in its heyday (had the best overall success rates at hitting the front page second to kevin rose basically). When digg version four came out it really ruined the site. Most people left for reddit. I came here since tech was what I was looking for and this was a much better community for that IMHO.

The UI is easy to use, but I wouldn't call it simple. There is a lot of information, and there are a lot of ways to interact with the content. Every comment has at least seven clickable links and three pieces of metadata, compare with HN (four and two.) They just did a good design job so it doesn't seem overwhelming.

The UI probably has something to do with the composition of the userbase. reddit feels not just interactive but malleable. That appeals to geeks raised on videogames.

> Every comment has at least seven clickable links

Tell me about it :)

I was a Conkeror user. It was fun to hit Ctrl-f and watch all the links light up !

(For those who don't know: Conkeror is a web browser - same engine as FF - but driven by the keyboard. It emulates Emacs for the most part. The way you navigate the hyperlinks is to hit Ctrl-f and each hyperlink will show a number which you can enter using your keyboard. No mouse. Reddit is unusable in Conkeror!)

One thing that makes them successful is that they weren't trying to build "something between X and Y". Why would anyone use your community portal instead of just creating a subreddit or discussing things on Facebook / Google+ / etc.?

Why would anyone use your site instead of other online discussion forums? Once you can answer that you have a shot at being successful.

Starting reddit back in 2005 certainly had disadvantages compared to today (for instance, launching hipmunk in 2010 was a dream for me compared to reddit because there are so many more people online and sharing: twitter didn't exist, facebook was only in colleges, etc etc).

It's a lot easier to spread the word about your startup today, but far more competition if your startup happens to be one of those 'social media' websites. Fortunately, I only spent $500 or so to date advertising reddit - and that was on stickers. No billboards, tv spots, magazine ads, newspaper ads, etc -- build something people want and give people excuses to share it.

1. They would use it instead of creating a new subreddit, because as I mentioned above it will be in another language and country, there is no such portal.

2. It will have better site architecture/sharing system/notification and commenting system than traditional discussion forums.

3. Building "between" doesn't mean it will be something mutant. Structural like reddit, from community philosophy perspective like HN is a good system, I think.

The Google/Facebook/Reddit interfaces are available in dozens of languages. Millions of people who aren't from the U.S. use those platforms, so clearly most Internet users don't find that using sites aimed at multiple nationalities is in any way troublesome.

I'm not saying it won't work, I'm just wondering why you're planning on targeting one specific demographic in particular? I remember when nation-specific sites were much more common, now that's increasingly not the case. If you think your architecture / notification system etc. is going to be better you'd be doing yourself a disservice by making it overly narrow.

Anyway. I don't mean to be dismissive of your idea. But to me it sounds a lot like "I want to set up a discussion forum for my country". Without any of the details about why your countrymen would sign up, what they're using now to communicate and why they'd be motivated to switch to your platform.

To find out some of pissible "why"s, I started this thread. My question is, why someone would prefer my "Reddit" instead of other sites. What is the secret of reddit's success.

I've always wanted to see reddit do more internationally. I've traveled quite a bit and met plenty of redditors who've shared the desire for a better internationalized site to replace the out-dated forum technology most of their fellow countrymen/women use for essentially the same purpose.

We're open-source, btw! So please take the lessons from Steve's brilliant commenting system: http://code.reddit.com

I know. The problem is, it's about Azerbaijan. I think you understood.

Ah, that's definitely not a market we'll be hitting anytime soon. I say go for it. Take the best lessons from reddit and make something Azeris want.

I live in Germany, but I can say you that you are one of most discussed topics in Azerbaijans internet sphere. Probably you didn't know that.

Wirklich?! Because I'm Armenian?

Genau :)

I'm going to have to say it was two parts luck and ease of joining the conversation. You can create an account so easily (no email required) and that probably allowed a lot of people to chat about subjects that they would normally not put their name/identity on. That's my guess.

My post from above pretty much sums up how reddit succeeded as far as I can tell: http://alexisohanian.com/how-reddit-became-reddit-the-smalle...

The ridiculously low registration barrier is something PG has preached to all YC startups. It's great advice. I should also point out that reddit has achieved all of this growth without a single email notification, or tweet, or facebook like, or all of those things apps now do automatically (and we're for the most part OK with).

I really didn't see that coming.

The community is what attracted me to, and what has kept me going back to reddit. The comment threads there are full of people who genuinely seem to care about one another in a way I have never seen in any other site.

In my opinion the idea that made them take off was subreddits. Where previously I would have joined many different websites/forums for my varied interests, on reddit I can just join the subreddit.

Exactly. Passionate people running subreddits. Its a community within a community and you can find a wide variety of information on almost anything you are interested in.

It was the Lisp. No, really. I found reddit because pg posted about it on comp.lang.lisp and I wanted to give any startup that used Lisp a chance.

I came for the Lisp, but I stayed for the zombie dogs.

Regular content makes it a daily (or more often) read for procrastinators and people looking to share new links with peers. I think that's a big part of it.

I think the biggest factors are:

- unique user flows / user interface

- persistence (team + Conde Nast parent)

- big stumble of Digg

everything else is a result of these

1. Mascot 2. Mascot 3. Bacon

Thank you.

You are welcome good chap.

They've come up with an economic way to homogenize the behaviour of community, this makes it really easy for people to fit in and feel at home. more here: http://jeffdechambeau.com/redditing-to-the-mean.html

UI convenience helps. I'm still frustrated by HN's posting usability compared to Reddit. Reddit sets a high bar in terms of my expectations now.

Personality. Personality goes a long way.

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