Understanding reddit

Insights on the internet’s front page

Note: I would like to thank @annediebel, Medium copy editor, for editing this post. There is a pretty amazing community here already.

Whenever someone asks me to explain reddit, I tell them that it is like Facebook if your friends only posted the most interesting shit there is on the internet. I’ve been on the site for four years and it has become as routine as brushing your teeth — if you brushed your teeth five times a day.

On the surface, reddit is a social news website where people goof off looking at cute cats and popular memes, e.g.“The Most Interesting Man in the World” and others like it. This is just a small scrap of what you will find when you start to explore. After just eighteen months of sweat by cofounders Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman, it was bought for millions by Conde Nast — and its main offering of democratized human curiosity stays the same.

A constant draw

If you want to get an idea of how addictive reddit is, look no further than the community’s most upvoted comment to a simple maintenence message:

When this link is 1 hour old, reddit will go down for scheduled maintenance

49 minutes to go. Stocking up on supplies. Have opened reddit threads in every tab. Will try to get enough threads to last me 5 minutes. God speed boys. —FuzeeWuzee, a typical redditor

When news is social, the front page matters

What is not as well known is the the special sauce that makes the community, whose contributed content is the driving force behind the site’s nearly 150 million pageviews a month. reddit is mostly self-policed and has grown organically, thanks to fake internet points and a true sense of community, posts are shared and voted on based on content goodness. The site is chunked into hundreds of subreddits that are moderated and maintained by willing volunteers who take their moderating responsibilities seriously and are mindful of reddiquette, reddit’s community values.

Even though reddit is still mostly a sausage fest, with a 12:1 single men to single women ratio, its reach is truly mind-boggling. Because of this, popular opinion on the site is often referred to as the “hive mind”. This describes characteristics the community usually endorses without even thinking. Topics like atheism, the legalization of marijuana, liberalism, disdain for Google+, love for Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan and anything to do with space are often satirized on r/CircleJerk.

The site has attracted Q&A-style “Ask Me Anything” posts from the likes of Commander Chris Hatfield, Reykjavík’s mayor Jón Gnarr, Orange is the New Black’s Piper Kerman, Bill Gates, Snoop Lion, and hundreds of otherwise inaccessible people. The really intriguing part is how easy it is to find a needle in a haystack. If you post, “Request: Someone who had their ride pimped by Xzibit” one lucky S.O.B. might log on, see that, and answer every curiosity the community has.

Recently they introduced multireddits, which allows you to clump together related subreddits and browse all of that content on one page. For instance, as a web designer, I have a multireddit that is made up of r/web_design, r/webdev, r/Frontend and r/Drupal, which is useful because it allows me to soak up as much as possible in a short amount of time. An animal lover might mix together r/aww, r/dogs or r/AnimalsBeingBros (a collection of GIFs and other images where animals give fist-bumps and do other bro-y things). See also, the new r/AnimalsBeingJerks.

“We don’t even realize something is broken until someone else shows us a better way.” — Alexis Ohanian

Remember when it was just six dudes in an office?

That iPhone looking machine is a beer machine, there’s an app on it called “Frosty Mugs”.

From the likes of their messy California office, the company has grown from its modest beginnings to the full-scale operation it is now.

The site created Reddit Gold to give a better experience to dedicated users and generate revenue. If someone goes out of their way to help another redditor, it’s not uncommon for users to reward each other with gold to express their gratitude. Speaking of upping the experience, if you really want to get the most out of it, check out Reddit Enhancement Suite, which gives you much more control of the UI and a better way to read through huge comment threads.

Five really engaging subreddits

The best way to really understand the community is to experience it. Listed below are a few subreddits that really go beyond the cute cat video thing…

  1. r/LifeProTips — A lot like Lifehacker, except still useful. Their most popular tip of all-time is something I’m doing this year. My wife and I have a jar in the kitchen stuffed with Post-It notes, everytime one of us say something that makes us laugh or creates a great memory, we write it down and throw it in the jar and on NYE, we’re going to go through all of them.
  2. r/ExplainLikeImFive — An ingenious idea to take a cue from The Office where Michael Scott learns what a budget surplus is by Oscar explaining it in terms of a kid running a lemonade stand. This community breaks down everything from current events to overall life topics and explains them in very simple terms that most anyone can understand. I mean, do you know why Coca Cola still advertises?
  3. r/TodayILearned — Really interesting information is shared here. If you want to now how Fahrenheight 451 got its title or what the optimal salary is for a person to be happy, you should take a look.
  4. r/MildlyInteresting — The originality of this is pretty amazing. Have you ever played Cards Against Humanity and even if something didn’t make you burst out laughing, you just were so blown away by how relevant a card is that you had to vote for it? This whole community is an internet version of that. One great example is this one, that points out the most subtle difference in the Facebook navigation, depending on where you login from. There’s even a bunch of good spin-off subreddits like, r/MildlyInfuriating.
  5. r/GetMotivated — What I like about this is it introduces really thought-provoking images and quotes without being too cheesy or over the top. While of course it can have its moments of cliché, its consistent themes of working hard and being ambitious are great daily reminders for anyone.

Bonus subreddit: r/ShutUpandTakeMyMoney— The best place I know of to find creative crap is this subreddit. Playing off of Futurama, these guys share interesting products that you can buy online. Maybe you want to pick up some repurposed thrift art or 2D glasses that convert 3D movies into 2D.

Who needs the internet when you can drive a bus?

Ohanian hit The Colbert Report recently promoting his book, and his underlying message was simple, the power of the internet means all links are created equal and the gatekeepers of content no longer have singular control of the narrative. Instead, there’s a democratic ebb-and-flow to how information is consumed. Ohanian is doing a 150-stop bus tour to connect on a personal level with aspiring entrepreneurs at 77 different colleges. There’s a clear irony a tech guy unplugging to connect to others — but there’s no question this medium has a great chance of creating some profound connections.

All posts are created equal

With a couple posts to r/aww, the golden retriever my wife and I rescued a couple of Christmases ago has been viewed 500,000 times, with simple titles like, I wanted a dog my whole life… and Our golden is classy, I’ve seen people gushing over the a dog that I get to hang out with every day (he’s asleep on the couch next to me right now). While this might be more in line with the cute cat videos side of reddit, I think it’s worth mentioning that some guy in Chicago sharing some pet pictures can reach a half a million people.

tl;dr: reddit‘s intrinsic value is a democratic approach to not only news, but content. The community is a place where everything is interesting and every voice matters. Show me another place on the internet like it.