The Reddit Problem

Cole Potrocky
Jul 12, 2015 · 2 min read

For years, Reddit has stood unchanged as a loosely affiliated group of message boards. Amongst increasing amounts of content, Reddit must evolve or whither away in the process.

Early on in its history, Reddit was a small but dedicated community of like minded individuals. This small, niche community thrived because members were alike in demographic as well as interest.

Reddit has grown significantly since 2006, from where the majority of its submissions were in a main (since retired) subreddit to over 850K niche-subreddits today. The default subreddits are often riddled with low-quality content, as trying to appeal to everyone is like appealing to no one. Niche-subreddits are difficult to find. All in all, it requires a lot of manual work to build a good, tailored Reddit experience.

Fixing its content dilution problem is critical to the long term success of Reddit.

Reddit isn’t alone. Other social networks like Twitter are struggling with an increasingly-noisy feed. Facebook aptly identified this problem years ago, making an implicit claim that the average user doesn’t want to mess with controls, they just want to see things they like.

There are a couple problems related to Reddit in this regard:

Discovery is difficult.

Provided I customize my subreddits to things I like, Reddit does a pretty good job at determining what I like. It does not, however, help me find new subreddits or submissions I might like. I’m wholly responsible for discovering new content.

Moderating Undesirable Content is Difficult

Drawing a line in the sand is difficult. What is acceptable and what is non-acceptable forms of speech differ from person-to-person.

I think it’s better to take a loose approach here: define a minimal global policy on bad behavior and enforce it harshly. Subreddit communities that participate in brigading and harassing (like /r/fatpeoplehate and /r/shitredditsays) should be banned. Speech, however disagreeable or unpopular, should be managed through moderation and downvoting.

Upvoting and Downvoting doesn’t work

Bold claim: Upvoting and downvoting is only useful for determining and eliminating low-quality content. The issue: what I like is not necessarily what the masses like.

One way to fix this is by keeping two tallies for stories:

  1. Normal, global upvoting and downvoting. This is useful for filtering out bad content and for displaying default feed for lurkers.
  2. Personal recording of upvoting and downvoting. Reddit can use my record of voting as a way of algorithmically curating content to my interests.

By the 90–9–1 rule (, most users are lazy. They just want to see interesting content, they don’t want to have to work to find it. As Reddit grows, it has to find a way to organize its massive amount of information.

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