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Left Alone by Its Owner, Reddit Soars (nytimes.com)
206 points by donohoe on Sept 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

"Steve Newhouse, the chairman of Advance.net, decided very early on that his company would not be the blob that ate Reddit, and for the most part, left well enough alone. “We had some ideas about what would be good, but it might not have worked,” Mr. Newhouse said. “We paid attention to the community instead.”"

I may be remembering stuff wrong, but wasn't there more tension + conflict during the period right after the acquisition? Didn't Reddit struggle to pay for basic infrastructure stuff due to their new parent company's skepticism about its viability and perception of its value?


And it was a long while until it got spun out. (http://venturebeat.com/2011/09/06/reddit-break-conde-nast/)

Not that there's anything crazy in any of this. Just that the NYT story paints it like right away they 1) knew Reddit's worth and 2) knew to have a hands-off approach.

I'm far from a Reddit power user, happy to hear other perspectives.

Conde rightly gloats about how, during The Sarah Chubb Years, they were hands-off about meddling with reddit as a site, but they're eliding over how, during that same time, they were extremely hands-on about preventing us from hiring people or buying decent computer hardware.

That should be very frustrating. Were you tempted to break with Conde and start again or some sort or change on your agreement with them?

My "change on my agreement with them" was to quit.

Including myself, three of the four reddit programmers came to that conclusion within the same six month period. (Props to spladug for keeping the flame alive!)

This may have been a good thing. Digg didn't have any constraints on buying new hardware and hiring new people, and we can see how that ended (they bought too much, hired too many people, and collapsed)!

We weren't asking for unlimited hardware and headcount. We would have been thrilled with a rule that every time traffic doubles, we get to hire one person.

As for hardware, all we wanted was a team printer that didn't jam, an SSD for ketralnis's workstation, and the right for our engineers to substitute an equal-cost laptop of their choice for the IT-approved MacBook.

Digg didn't collapse because of hardware or headcount...they collapsed because they trashed their product with unnecessary changes and pissed off their user base

Sure, the fact that they had a huge headcount, meant that they had to take more risk to try to monetize...but the nail in their coffin wasn't cost...but loss of traffic

Keep in mind this is one of dozens of "internet" companies Steve owns depending on where you draw the lines in the greater Newhouse ecosystem (see: http://advance.net and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance_Publications).

He's also pushing a $500M portfolio into every new-media-investing VC fund he can find: http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/advances-ma-...

So the fact that reddit got ignored for a few years, both to its detriment (having to beg for money) and to its benefit (not getting eaten/squished) is mostly just a byproduct of advance/newhouse's "buy all the things, figure out what to do with them later" strategy.

I remember before Reddit was moved to an independent subsidiary, there were tension between Conde and Reddit on how to increase the revenue or profit (were they ever profitable?) At one time, the site was crashing frequently due to lack of infrastructure capacity. They were forced to try different things to make money, like Reddit Golds, ad placement, etc.

I think Conde had realized later on that Reddit can become like Craigslist where while it won't be squeezed every ad dollar out of it but it will become enormously profitable and prominent in the web.

I'm a Reddit frequent user...I can't comment specifically on your assertions...just that it continues to amaze me how the site has remained as free from pervasive chiclets, (official) spam, and Digg-like networking...

Whether this was a deliberate plan or the byproduct of executive apathy, it's still quite amazing

"On Thursday, President Obama signed up for an “Ask Me Anything” (A.M.A. in geekspeak) session at Reddit, a vast social site that is a staple of digital life for the young and connected, but less well known among grown-ups."

How patronizing.

Yea, that's David Carr's voice (the NYTimes writer). He's kind of a skeptical luddite, but I have immense respect for him. He's one of the central figure in the NYTimes documentary "Page One: Inside the New York Times."

Indeed. Reminds me of when people say that IT work should be cheap because "you're just pushing some buttons." Gee, I sure am glad President Obama took some time to join us kiddies in playing with our computers!

Pushing buttons does nothing, it's the order in which those buttons are pushed that requires intelligence, skill and experience.

Yeah. You're preaching to the choir, though!

"If the leader of the free world stops by" - sorry, he's what?

This is a pretty common expression for the President of the US: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_World#.22Leader_of_the_Fre...

Which goes on to say that it has fallen out of use. It's a ridiculous title.

I don't think that phrase has had any meaning for at least 20 years.

I couldnt read the rest of the article after that

"Strategically, what they have done should be a model of how to create and support a virtual start-up within a larger corporation,' said Anil Dash, a writer and entrepreneur in digital realms."

Well, strategically, they might eventually want to think about making some return on investment for the acquiring investors with actual cash profit. Otherwise, they will eventually be shed at a loss (is anyone else here old enough to remember AOL and Time Warner?).

Strategically, they may also be serving as a cautionary example of why start-ups without a secure revenue model shouldn't be acquired at all, unless there is financial upside for the investors. After all, the article further reports, "Reddit is not an exception to every rule in the digital world. Like many digital media companies, it has a big audience and minuscule revenue."

They bought them for 20mil, that's pretty cheap given their userbase. I bet Conde can sell them for more than that now.

I'm sorry but the first sentence made me laugh:

"There are many ways to measure the traction of a social media platform: [3 ways, to be exact]"

I think it's a shame that Reddit sold so early but at the same time they can think of the users (Until Conde Nast gets involved). There's no question about their valuation and how they'll monetize. They as a company can work on that and build a great product but there aren't daily blogposts on TechCrunch about it.

Looking for Techcrunch endorsements is so 2009ish. People who know and can reddit, are doing fine because it is possibly one of the last few places on the Internet where pseudonym and trolling is still alive. You feel gratified by people answering your comment given that you have most likely trolled at first. You eventually get a peace later on because the community kept you alive and kicking. Hence it has all the right ingredients of what social-network should be like on the Internet: free, open and anonymous.

A while back I deleted my Reddit account and just recently I've created a new one under my real name. I decided that if I was going to post, I would do so as myself and not hide behind an anonymous name. I hadn't really done any trolling in the past, but I'd participated in discussions I certainly wouldn't have participated in if they could have readily been tracked back to me.

But for better or worse, I decided to go the real name route this time.

The result is that I end up commenting on a lot less time-wasting content (and subsequently reading less because I know I won't participate in the discussion and reading often opinionated comments without participating will just frustrate me), and putting more thought into the responses I do post.

That's not to say that I think there's anything necessarily wrong with the anonymity. Sometimes it's nice to give voice to something you otherwise wouldn't because your opinion is controversial or unpopular (and doing business online, one has to protect one's online reputation and what ends up in the search engines). For me, though, it's translated to less time spent on useless AMA/AskReddit posts, more time spent on meaningful discussion, and less time on the site overall. All of these are good things.

Well, that's not a bad decision if it works for you well. But anonymity doesn't necessarily equal to the poster wasting time. I use reddit with pseudonym and I don't troll.

My pseudonym is my authentic identity on Reddit, just as it is here on HN. A while ago I was using one identity here on HN and for one reason or another, some people didn't like what I had to say (even though personally I was very authentic) so they down-voted me so much that my score went in to negative, and I ended up deleting my account and recreating a new one. I have still not given up on being authentic under pseudonym.

The point is that you have to believe in the conversation - gaining and imparting knowledge - and not worry about the fluff and the other distraction of the Internet. The trend to have real names on the Internet, the trend to have face on the Internet....these are all distractions as far as I am concerned.

As long as we are typing and reading each other through letters and words, we don't need to see each others' names and pictures. It would be a different matter when we converse through video and audio.

Oh, I agree with you. You don't have to be an ass, just because you're anonymous. I didn't troll, either, but I did find that I felt more free to comment on things I otherwise wouldn't for a variety of reasons.

That's certainly both good and bad.

The negatives, in my case, were that I would end up getting into discussions over trivial topics, or would end up reading tons of comments, some good, some bad, and comment on them just because I could.... For example, if I disagreed with you, I would tell you, event hough most of the time it was over things that just weren't worth the time and effort of getting into a debate with a random stranger over.

On the other hand, posting anonymously also gave me freedom to talk at length about things that matter to me but maybe aren't the best things to go talking about using my real name when everything is indexed in a search engine (politics, religion, etc.). I'll certainly stand up for what I believe in, but in cases like a potential client who may be looking me up on Google, my religious views, for instance, shouldn't be the first thing they find. It's just irrelevant in a work relationship 99% of the time.

So making the switch to my real name, I did lose some of that freedom, and one could argue that this is a bad thing, but for me, the constraints it places on the types of discussions I'm willing to have means better time management and (overall) more thoughtful responses when I do respond. I suppose if there was a real hot-button issue that I felt compelled to comment on, I would create a throw away account and do so, but sticking with my real identity forces me to think and evaluate those situations more closely before doing so.

I think I have gone through a similar transformation and understanding as yours and I can totally relate to the experience and dynamics you describe. However, my conclusion was that it is better to be 100% authentic in a small and controlled confines than it is to be in public. And slowly I have adopted the approach of only speaking online what I could backup offline, that is with or without anonymity.

So upon that realization, I kept using the platforms where pseudo-identities are welcome and not frowned upon and I can be transparent where I feel comfortable. It is similar to being in an environment where I can speak on any matter on my own terms and not anyone else'. So when I acquire an avatar/identity for a site, I make sure that I use that avatar/identity with full honesty.

The people who use pseudo-identity to gratify their egos and to be abusive towards their freedom of anonymity, are basically being dishonest with themselves and everyone else. I think one can be anonymous and still be authentic. Each one of us have multiple compartments from which we operate and live our lives and we are always evolving and changing as person. Google Plus team and Mark Zuckerburgs would wrongly want you to believe otherwise.

It is just so that Internet as a whole is not a trust-worthy place so you have to pick and choose how and where you participate, and we have to be able to do it on our terms.

Out of personal curiosity: compared to the trolling before, how does your karma do? (especially given that most 6-figure karma "stars" mostly post half-funny, hivemind-compliant one-liners.. cheap laughs without substance.)

I haven't really noticed a difference. I wasn't much trolling before. I would just end up participating in more discussions that were a) about things that didn't matter, or 2) about social topics that were more controversial than I would normally discuss when the conversation could so easily be tracked back to me.


There's a good interview from Mark Suster with Advance Publications recently. They talk Reddit here: http://youtu.be/iXES4ITy7W8?t=22m

A little surprising to hear him dismiss the role Digg 4 played in Reddit's success, but overall, gives a good perspective on how they keep it hands-off.

Keep in mind that when Reddit got acquired, Reddit gold doesn't exist yet. So they were losing (more) money every month.

reddit gold may never have worked if it was sold without understanding that reddit was in trouble and couldn't grow without the support of it's users. If it had been an out of the blue proposal to slap charges for features then people might have kicked up a fuss.

Another theory was that the owners (Conde Nast?) were very old media and used to thinking of magazine subscriptions. So they invented subscriptions for reddit, to show that, yes even by magazine standards, reddit is a good business.

Can someone explain to me how PG funded Reddit when it was more like a HN clone?

I might get a few details wrong; but HN certainly was inspired by reddit.

Reddit was originally written in Lisp. Paul Graham had actually written an article about how Lisp was his secret weapon when building his Yahoo-acquired Viacom. Reddit was one of the first YC companies so I assume their language choice was inspired by this.

Soon after launch reddit had performance issues and was rewritten in Python. This improved the site stability but angered one of reddit's original user base of Lisp fans. Around the same time Paul Graham started hyping a new Lisp dialect he was writting called arc [1]. It's what powers HN.

Arc stores the stack and a set of continuations for each possible client action in memory on the server. These are referenced on the client by a fnid. This is actually the source of the next-page errors you'll see here; continuations are purged in least recently used fashion so as HN outgrows its single server the lack of memory makes sessions expire more quickly.

I believe both HN and reddit (which had a second Python-based rewrite) are now open source. There is nothing stopping Paul Graham from using reddit's source code; but I believe the arc code is leaner. HN runs on a single piece of hardware to this day.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arc_(programming_language)

> Soon after launch reddit had performance issues and was rewritten in Python.

The reason was explained here:


I quote:

Emacs and SLIME are a killer combination, but I develop on a Mac, and reddit.com is a FreeBSD box. On my Mac, my choices of threaded Lisp implementations was limited to OpenMCL, and in FreeBSD it's CMUCL. Because of the low-level socket and threading code we had to write, reddit would not run on my Mac, and I was always tethered to our FreeBSD development server. Not being able to program offline is a pain.

If Lisp is so great, why did we stop using it? One of the biggest issues was the lack of widely used and tested libraries. Sure, there is a CL library for basically any task, but there is rarely more than one, and often the libraries are not widely used or well documented. Since we're building a site largely by standing on the shoulders of others, this made things a little tougher. There just aren't as many shoulders on which to stand.

Back in 2005 Common Lisp had a fragmentation problem: not all libraries would work on all implementation/os pairs and not all implementations would work on all operating systems (in fact iirc no open source implementation would work on windows, freebsd, linux and mac)

Thanks for the details - am clear now :-)

I always wonder how HN works without cookies. Can you share some insights on that?

HN does actually use a cookie called "user" when you login to keep you logged in. But for page to page state it uses an id in the url. That's why a lot of the internal links have a "fnid" in them and why you can't share those urls.

Like 'almost' said; it does use cookies to remember you between session. In practice they are not strictly needed.

In a traditional web server the request comes in, some operations are performed to product an output, and the server discards all state. When the next request comes in the server handles it from scratch; authenticating sessions, loading objects in to memory, etc.

In arc, when a link or action is generated the interpreter (I think) the stack is captured an serialized. This, and he closure that the link would execute, is referenced by a unique fnid. When the user clicks on a link the server restores the previous stack and executes the closure as though the response and new request cycle never happened.

This makes it very easy to write web applications; you can concentrate on the exact flow you want rather than creating a bunch of separate-but-linked controllers that have to duplicate a lot of logic. On the down side it does violate the stateless nature of the web. I can't take a link and sharers with you. URLs become meaningless; instead of pointing to a resource they become merely a way to communicate state back to the server.

As a disclaimer: I haven't actually built anything in arc. I have peeked at the HN source code though. I do believe that it does use the traditional-style request handling for some parts where storing the stack causes issues or is unnecessary (e.g. A link from homepage to article uses a traditional stateless URL).

it DOES work with cookies. At this moment I have a cookie from ycombinator called "user".

PG said in an interview that they first wanted to have a HN subreddit but back then reddit didn't yet have subreddits and it was taking too long for them to implement that capability so PG made HN on his own.

That sounds like PG's comment here! http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3141132

PG talks a bit more about how Reddit inspired HN here: http://ycombinator.com/announcingnews.html

I thought it was the other way around.

Other way around. Reddit came first, and lots of initial users and content was like what HN is now. However reddit changed. PG set up HN as to be like "reddit as it was at these start". Now both have different cultural norms, users, goals, standards, and are different.

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