The reddit rebellion and the challenge of commercializing communities

  • The community believes itself a democracy. The host portrays the community as a republic, with itself as the elected. In reality, online communities are weak dictatorships. The host company has technical control of everything that touches its software. But while the host company owns the software, both are essentially commodities, with the value provided by users who create and curate content, as well those who visit and make that content influential. A result is a form of governance that combines the self-righteousness of the oppressed with the timidity of a democracy.
  • Media businesses (which online communities, who trade in attention, are) require either massive scale, or a niche built upon a vein of gold. Most choose to go for scale, which means that the company must seek to ‘mainstream’ the community. But communities are built by creating an insider language that defines those within the community as well as those who are not. This naturally create a barrier to new users who have to learn the language to participate. To make the community more accessible is to dilute what made the community special in the first place.
  • A single user-controlled homepage concentrates identity and power amongst the users rather than the platform. The typical user of Facebook or Twitter is as resistant to change as a Reddit user, but on these platforms silos of attention dilute the power of the angry. The resistance bandwagon has to spread far more organically across sub-communities of followers which limits its power against administrative editorial control. When Facebook launched the Newsfeed, it inadvertently created a tool for its own users to turn on their master. But because each users’ Newsfeed was unique, and ultimate editorial rested with the host, it was not the only story that all users saw for days. With a centralized user-controlled homepage, and the collective identity that emerges as a result, users have far more control of over their own fate.

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Building @askumbrella. Previously building products, teams, and companies at @sidewalklabs & @imgur, investing at @a16z http://samgerstenzang.com

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Sam Gerstenzang

Sam Gerstenzang

Building @askumbrella. Previously building products, teams, and companies at @sidewalklabs & @imgur, investing at @a16z http://samgerstenzang.com