Reddit: Have you read it?
Reddit has emerged as a curious, hybrid internet platform, it’s name is a pun on the word “read it”, really signifying a clear link to an idea of social news sharing on a Digital Platform. Reddit is a forum website, broken down into a large number of other forums (known as Subreddits), for users to submit content and then discuss. It has its own unique terminology to refer to certain concepts, and is unique from other comparable platforms with its ease of use and simplistic interface. The first section of this essay will provide a historical overview, terminology and general use of Reddit, while the second section of this essay will analyse Reddit in a more social and cultural context.
So what is Reddit?
Reddit is a large forum website, that contains smaller websites where users submit content (text, links or picture submissions) for discussion. Most users are American, followed by British people, Canadians and Australians (Noguti, 2016, p.702), highlighting that it is a widely known platform that is used predominantly by people from the Western World. Users then vote on the content, where posts that are highly rated are moved towards the top of the page, so more people see it. Reddit has been defined as a “social media platform dedicated to user-generated content and discourse around the world (Record et al, 2018, p. 470) – the likening of Reddit to be a ‘social media platform’ arguably sets it up as a point of comparison, or even competitor, of comparable social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Whirlpool or even Instagram, as Reddit shares various niches and similarities with each of the mentioned platforms. The ecology diagram below highlights Reddit, a key characteristic/feature of Reddit and then a link to which comparable platform also shares this, highlighting how not only Reddit belongs to the same online ecology, but also serves as their independent competitors.
Reddit even has its own terminology unique to the site, which is defined below:
r/ : A prefix for a certain subreddit. For example, USYD has it’s own subreddit, known as r/USYD u/ : A prefix for a certain user. For example, u/johnappleseed123 Upvote: Positively vote on a thread or comment, which will move it further up the list (of comments or threads). Downvote: Negatively vote on a thread or comment, which will move it further down the list. Comments that are below a specified threshold (for example -5) will be censored from view with “comment score below threshold”, although a user can choose to see the comment by clicking the + button to open it. Karma: A digital point system that is awarded by how many upvotes a user receives. Receiving downvotes takes away karma points. Throwaway: What it says – an account (easily and quickly) made using Reddits unique criteria of no email required to sign up, and is typically used to post a controversial or hurtful comment. Enshrines anonymity. AMA: Ask Me Anything. A thread title where a user declares a subject or experience and invites others to ask them questions. Having such unique terminology as such can be seen as another distinct quality of Reddit – it not only invites the user to become more engaged and learn what each one means, but it also invites them to think like they’re in a different kind of alternate environment while using the site.
A brief historical overview of Reddit and ownership:
In April 2018, 13 years later since the inception, a website re-design rolled out – although the option to remain using the old interface with old.reddit.com can be seen as considerate of users that don’t like the new design or simply don’t react well to change, unlike Facebook or Instagram, both of which have forced through interface changes on their users. This arguably paints Reddit as a more user-oriented website, putting its users first, in the context of design, with the interface being more customisable, a concept that reiterates the idea of the website ‘having something for everyone’, besides the multitude of Subreddits.
Reddit’s Business Model
It’s business model involves a premium version of the website, known as Reddit Gold, which was introduced in July 2010 as a means for users to contribute to support the website. Reddit Gold is a subscription (monthly or yearly) that serves as a paywall to unlock premium features on the website, such as seeing being able to refresh a thread and seeing new comments highlighted since the last visit, the ability to turn off advertisements and being able to see more comments on a thread at a single time. Reddit Gold can be seen as a counterpart to the controversy of in-app purchases and other paywalls, because in essence, it represents locking certain features (that have no additional cost to operate) behind a paywall – therefore, Reddit Gold represents a choice for users to pay to support the website and get more features in return, creating a class of division, as regardless as to whether or not there are people that like the features of Reddit Gold, it can be argued that there will be people that would be put off from tying their bank account to Reddit. Reddit Gold alone earned the company $796,663.35 in 2017, highlighting that both a significant revenue stream and user base are tied to the product.
Another clear source of revenue contributing to Reddit sources of profit/revenue is advertising, displayed on the webpages of numerous Subreddits. Interestingly, one of feature of the (paid) Reddit Gold is to remove advertising entirely from that users interface, suggesting an idea that users will either see advertisements (revenue goes to Reddit), or pay to not see them (revenue goes to Reddit) – so through this business model, no matter whether one does or doesn’t block the advertisements, Reddit still earns revenue through it.
Reddit’s Social and Cultural Influence
Yet, interestingly, the unique (and easy) way in which Reddit users establish their account (or, accounts) on the website also fosters questionable behaviour. Reddit is relatively unique when signing up for an account on its website in the respect that one does not require an email address to join the website – the only thing that is required of a new user is to come up with a username, password, and complete a Captcha verification, meaning the entire process can take around a minute. Considering that profile pictures are completely optional and do not show up next to one’s name in posts and comments, this emphasises an almost complete degree of anonymity. The cloak of anonymity can be seen as controversial. While it’s reasonable to argue on one side, some people might want to enjoy complete privacy of their use and activity on Reddit, others might see it as good opportunity to say completely hurtful things to others that they might not feel brave enough to say in real life. This highlights a clear difference in peoples behaviour between in real life environment and online environments, perhaps therefore suggesting in this context that online environments that promote anonymity can bring out the worse side of a person. Workman similarly suggests an idea of Reddit being criticised for its online community promoting “hive mind” (Workman, 2014, p.10) attitudes, even factoring in users can be completely anonymous, suggesting more controversial ideas that people can use Reddit to set up hostile cults, a more divisive and controversial idea in it’s own right. On the other hand however, Singer has discussed, in the context of the evolution of Reddit, that ‘the community aspect of Reddit is becoming more important’ (Singer, 2014, p.3), reiterating the idea that the concept of (digital) community is one key way in how Reddit has transformed the Internet (and as such, peoples behaviour in using the Internet). Reddit has similarly been referred to as always a “venue for the edgy and degenerate, fostered in part by its anonymity” (Hannay, 2018, p.34) – this highlights how the anonymous aspect of the site can be seen as extremely controversial, because it encourages people to say things, including hurtful things, to others online that they might not say in real life because of the anonymous aspect. Within Subreddit threads, only one’s username is visible, no picture, emphasizing the ‘anonymous’ aspect, while IP addresses (although these cannot directly pinpoint a person, online websites can pinpoint the approximate location of an IP Address) linked to posts/accounts are only available to the more elusive Administrators of Reddit, rather than Community Moderators and are generally not released to the public.
Reddit can also be seen as more politically neutral compared to Facebook in a political influence context – the latter has fallen under heavy controversy over influencing the US 2016 Election result through Russian ad’s that ‘fit right in with Donald Trumps campaign strategy’. In contrast, Reddit, fell under no such scandal in relation to the outcome of the 2016 election, suggesting both that it is less reliant on advertising (revenue) than Facebook is, as well as that it regulates it’s own website more carefully compared to Facebook. On the other hand, politically, Reddit has been criticised for employing a free speech approach, where in contrast to Facebook which has much more tighter moderation rules ( Nithyanand, 2017, p.2), suggesting that those who not on ‘politically correct’ spectrums will find Reddit a more attractive platform to air controversial views. However, on the other hand, in terms of political involvement, former US President Barack Obama held an AMA (ask me anything) . Being upvoted well over 216k times arguably added a touch more of fame to Reddit and brought its prominence more into the spotlight to the general public at the time of airing/advertising, and invited people to anonymously ask their (then) President anything they like. On the other hand, it can also be argued that perhaps Reddit wished to host this AMA to attract new users, to give them strong incentive to sign up for the website, as they could see for themselves the ease and anonymity of using the website and afterwards explore what else the website has to offer.
Summary – How has Reddit been part of transforming the way we use the Internet?
It can be argued that the key selling point of Reddit comes from two main points – it’s ease of use (including signing up to the website), as well as the “there’s something for everyone” aspect, in regards to the numerous different communities. How said Subreddits operate, through purely user-submitted content, foster a strong sense of community, particularly in a digital environment, showing that Reddit has transformed our daily lives through establishing online communities. The Sydney Subreddit, for example, has weekly drinks and meetups, purely for anyone that is active enough to see the event details and want to come along, thus making for an interesting tool where ones online ‘digital’ friends can be turned into actual real life friends by meeting them in real life and getting to know them from there. This concept therefore suggests an idea that Reddit, within subreddits, they are able to potentially normalise online friendships and in effect to an extent, narrow the gap between in real life friendships and online friendships. Reddit can therefore be seen primarily as transforming the internet by making it easy to establish interaction and connections with other online users. While this possibility is also clearly offered by competitors such as Twitter or even Instagram, Reddit overshadows these arguably with its ease of signing up (no email or phone number required), and a clear offer of anonymity, which is arguably more appealing to those reluctant to take up the use of the internet, Reference List:
Hannay, T. (2018). “The rancorous rise of Reddit”. Nature (London)(0028-0836), 562 (7725), p. 34. Nithyanand, R., Schaffner, B., & Gill, P. (2017). Online political discourse in the trump era., p. 1-16 Singer, P., Flöck, F., Meinhart, C., Zeitfogel, E., & Strohmaier, M. (2014). Evolution of reddit: From the front page of the internet to a self-referential community? Valeria Noguti, (2016) “Post language and user engagement in online content communities”, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 50 Issue: 5/6, pp.695-723