Reddit – ‘The Front Page of the Internet’
Genesis of ‘The Front Page of the Internet’
Reddit has become one of the largest and most powerful social media platforms on the planet. According to Alexa , a company owned by Amazon that catalogues Internet traffic, Reddit is the 16th most visited website on the planet, and the 5th most visited in the United States. There are currently over 330 million registered accounts within their user database  that access the site on a monthly basis. The slogan for the website is ‘The Front Page of the Internet’, and this is because rather than being organised around one central topic or theme, it instead is built up of over 138 thousand unique communities known as ‘subreddits’. Because of this diverse communal landscape, users with varying or even polarizing interests can always find communities that they belong to. To understand how this website has continued to expand along such an incredible trajectory it is necessary to go back and explore the factors contributing to its genesis.
Reddit started in 2005  when college roommates Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman pitched their idea for a food-ordering app to the then-new startup supporter, Y Combinator. Their initial idea was rejected, however since they both held degrees in computer science from the University of Virginia, the owner of Y Combinator, Paul Graham, requested that they instead invest their time in another startup, and from this Reddit was born. Things were slow to start off, and for the first few years the majority of user accounts on the website were fake, created by the small team of developers that were actually building the social media platform. Furthermore, there were very few communities, or subreddits, in which any users could actually find likeminded people. In fact, the most popular subreddit until r/science was introduced in 2006, was r/programming, and considering the user base was populated by fake accounts created by the small development team, this is both expected and comical.
How does Reddit fit within the history of communication media?
Reddit is not unique in its design, nor is it entirely original. In 2004 another social media platform known as Digg was launched, and it was built using the same philosophies that make Reddit so successful nowadays. The objective was to develop a central source from which users could discuss current news and other viral Internet phenomena, clearly not so different from Reddit. There are however several reasons why Reddit was able to overtake Digg as not only the more effective news source, but as one of the giant social media platforms of the digital age. In essence, this can be traced to the development of a sense of community localized entirely within Reddit culture. What is meant by this, is that aside from the content posted on the website referencing external sources, such as news or funny images, there was also a push to solidify a distinct Reddit community . In December of 2009 the first RedditGift exchange took place for Christmas. This was essentially a global Secret Santa, wherein users who chose to get involved were assigned another user, along with a list of their favourite Subreddits, and tasked with sending them an anonymous gift. The second distinct feature, which solidified a loyal user base in the early days, was the introduction of Reddit Gold, a subscription based service that provided users with a few extra features  (like the removal of ads and the ability to track other users movements on your account). Reddit Gold could be purchased by anyone, what happened however was that it ended up being used as a way for people to acknowledge the contribution of others in a more significant way than simply ‘upvoting’ or ‘downvoting’ a comment or post.
The website was bought out by the mass media firm Conde Nas in 2006 for an estimated $20 million, and Conde Nas itself is owned by the multibillion dollar New York based holding company Advance Publications  . Reddit took on its contemporary form in 2011; around the time posts from the site started to appear on Digg, which was closely followed by the migration of users onto Reddit.
Who owns and controls the key business in this field?
Since the mass migration in 2011, the number of users has continued to increase exponentially. It seems unlikely that this growth is going to slow down any time soon, largely because there are no real competitors that threaten the social media monopoly held by Reddit. What distinguishes Reddit from other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is that the users are unknown, their identities hidden behind a pseudonym of their own choosing. Despite the anonymity, there are moderators that manage each subreddit and ensure that discussion is appropriate and remains within the overarching rules of the platform. Unlike other anonymous online chat rooms like 4chan, there is a culture built around concepts of civility and consideration. This air of conscientiousness has allowed a wholesome atmosphere to develop as the foundation for the platform.
The platform seems to be a fairly accurate reflection of society, within the context of cyber space. There are many celebrities that use Reddit like Arnold Schwarzenegger (u/GovSchwarzenegger ) and Bill Gates (u/thisisbillgates ), who garner endless amounts of attention wherever they roam within this digital landscape. There are also many Reddit celebrities who receive the same kind of attention from the online community, like u/Shitty_Watercolour , who has developed a reputation since 2012 for recreating current events or providing portraits of people with his signature below average watercolour paintings. Other platforms like Tumblr and Buzzfeed are similar in their roots of anonymity, however they pale in comparison when it comes to the expansiveness of their community and complexity of culture. The all-encompassing character of this platform, particularly the fact that the content on other sites can usually also be found posted somewhere within Reddit, has been a catalyst for the rapid expansion of this domain.
Who benefits from its transformative effects in political, economic, and / or cultural terms? Who does not?
The bottom-up approach to social media that is characteristic of Reddit, by this I am referring to the way that strangers are connected via their interests, rather than through the people they already know means the platform is an excellent means for political mobility. It is difficult in these relatively early years to determine whether this transformation in the way that people can communicate will be beneficial, or detrimental in political, economic or cultural terms.
On the one hand, subreddits like r/TwoXChromosomes  provide a relatively safe area within cyberspace where women, who universally experience gender subjugation to some extent, can engage in active and honest discussion with one another. This provides an example wherein the ability to speak freely promotes wholesome values, however this is quickly countered by other distasteful subreddits like the now banned r/incels , which promoted misogynistic and hateful values; and the always controversial community for Trump supporters, r/The_Donald . Just like in the real world, it seems that wherever there is a community that promotes values backed by good intentions, there is another that unfortunately is built around pessimistic or closed-minded ideologies.
In August 2014, many online platforms experienced a surge of activity as two controversial movements arose within cyberspace. Firstly, the harassment campaign #GamerGate arose as people protested against women in the video game development industry who were stereotyped as only being involved through methods of coercion. It started when Zoë Quinn, an indie developer released the game Depression Quest , which received positive reviews by critics. Suggestions that the game only received its positive reviews due to a sexual relationship between Quinn and one of her critics sparked a public outcry, which ended with people sending her death threats and posting her personal information, like her place of residence, online for anyone to see. The second controversial online phenomenon was known as TheFappening. This refers to an instance in which hundreds of celebrities had their personal devices and storage hacked, resulting in their naked photos being posted online. Reddit acted as a central point through which people were able to access these photos, not necessarily on the website but at least with links from the website elsewhere. Massanari has explored these two instances of ‘toxic technocultures’ and identified exactly how these kinds of online behaviour can clearly be damaging to the lives of real people (2017: 342).
To sum up what Reddit represents in the modern digital landscape, consider the now famous declaration that Barlow (1996) made for online freedom in the mid-nineties. In his words ‘our identities have no bodies… we cannot obtain order by physical coercion’. This notion becomes particularly apparent within the context of pseudononymity, which characterizes the ‘Front Page of the Internet’. Barring a complete shutdown, as is the case in China, Reddit will continue to grow as like-minded people are brought together through their shared interests. The platform resembles a double-edged sword, as its anonymity is its greatest attribute but also its greatest weakness. People are willing to express themselves honestly because it does not reflect back on their true self, however this honesty is not always pretty and this is apparent from the controversial recent history. It is impossible to establish whether the presence of Reddit as an online platform will be beneficial or detrimental to communicative media in the long run, however it is no longer possible to alter the trajectory as this online version of society has adopted its own unique character.
Barlow, J. P. (1996, February 8). A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 27 February 2017, from https://www.eff.org/cyberspace-independence
Lagorio-Chafkin, C. (2012, May 30). How Alexis Ohanian Built a Front Page of the Internet. Inc.com. Retrieved 2 October 2018, from https://www.inc.com/magazine/201206/christine-lagorio/alexis-ohanian-reddit-how-i-did-it.html
Macale, S. (2011, October 14). A Rundown of Reddit’s history and Community (Infographic). The Next Web. Retrieved 2 October 2018, from https://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2011/10/14/a-rundown-of-reddits-history-and-community-infographic/
Massanari, A. (2017). Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media & Society, 19(3), 329–346. doi:10.1177/1461444815608807 ISSN: 1461-4448
Solon, O. (2017, November 9). ‘Incel’: Reddit bans misogynist men’s group blaming women for their celibacy. The Guardian Australia. Retrieved 4 October 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/nov/08/reddit-incel-involuntary-celibate-men-ban
 – Top 500 Sites on the Web – https://www.alexa.com/topsites
 – Reddit ‘About Us’ section – https://www.redditinc.com/press
 – How Alexis Ohanian Built the Front Page of the Internet – https://www.inc.com/magazine/201206/christine-lagorio/alexis-ohanian-reddit-how-i-did-it.html
 – A Rundown of Reddit’s History and Community – https://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2011/10/14/a-rundown-of-reddits-history-and-community-infographic/
 – Reddit user u/TsterT explanation of Reddit Gold – https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/18knmc/eli5_can_somebody_explain_reddit_gold_to_me/c8fmfg5/
 – Forbes listing for Advance Publications – https://www.forbes.com/companies/advance-publications/#1b9c0aae4c98
 – Celebrity Redditor Arnold Schwarzenegger – https://www.reddit.com/user/GovSchwarzenegger
 – Celebrity Redditor Bill Gates – https://www.reddit.com/user/thisisbillgates/
 – Reddit Celebrity u/Shitty_Watercolour – https://www.reddit.com/user/shitty_watercolour/posts/
 – Female perspective subreddit TwoXChromosomes – https://www.reddit.com/r/TwoXChromosomes/
 – Guardian article explaining ban on r/incels – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/nov/08/reddit-incel-involuntary-celibate-men-ban
 – Donald Trump’s controversial subreddit – https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Donald/
 – Indie game Depression Quest website – http://www.depressionquest.com/