#RedditRevolt — One Woman’s Impact on the Front Page of the Internet

Most of my favourite subreddits went dark today. No, it’s not just the AMA subreddit. It’s also r/AskReddit, r/Books, r/Science, r/DataIsBeautiful, r/Art, r/Movies and a whole lot more. My Reddit feed is…sparse, to say the least.

I admit, I was a bit miffed until I learned why.

If you’ve missed the shit storm brewing and breaking in waves of resentment and protest so far, this is why the internet is going crazy today. (This link leads to a comprehensive write-up that captures everything that went down at Reddit. If you want a overall view of the entire fiasco, I recommend reading it.)

In a nutshell, it all has to do with u/chooter (Victoria Taylor) being fired as the Communications Director at Reddit without notice to the mods who relied heavily on her expertise to set up AMAs.

But really, how much impact can one person have on a behemoth like Reddit?

Quite a lot, apparently. This is a cached version of her AMA:

From what I could tell, her job involved finding celebrities to participate in AMAs, helping them set up and discover the best questions, sometimes over the phone, and helping them out if they’re technologically challenged.

But it’s not as simple as it sounds.

These are a couple of excerpts from her AMA that gave me some insight into how invaluable she really was.

Question : Do you pick good questions for them (the talent doing the AMA) or are they on their own?

“I try to help sift through thousands of questions — I’m a speed-reader who’s adept in scanning thousands of questions. I type so fast I have 2 computers that I frequently work faster than.”

Question: It seems like a lot of redditors are under the impression that your sole job is to type for celebrities. What other duties does your job entail?

“Oh my (said in my best George Takei voice). I deal with incoming and outgoing media & press relations, as well as general communications planning internally and externally (like this AMA app launch, for example) as well as presenting best practices to various organizations that want to interact on reddit to hopefully help them do better and have better experiences working with our community (whether organizational, non-profits, governmental, etc).
Basically I’m reddit’s personal C-3PO. I am fluent in over six million forms of communication!”

And it’s not just the AMA subreddit that she handled. Several moderators depended on her heavily to set up AMAs for their own subreddits. She was a a top level employee with access to information like analytics who still ran a hands-on shop to get great people to contribute to iconic AMAs.

In short, she was a much-needed bridge between the Reddit admins and the mods who manage the subreddits.

For instance, /u/nallen, the lead mod of /r/science, says

To back this up, I am the mod in /r/science that organizes all of the science AMAs, and I am going to have meaningful problems in the /r/Science AMAs; Victoria was the only line of communication with the admins. If someone wants to get analytics for an AMA the answer will be “Sorry, I can’t help.”
Dropping this on all of us in the AMA sphere feels like an enormous slap to those of us who put in massive amounts of time to bring quality content to reddit.

So the real reason the mods are protesting is not just because Victoria was sacked. It’s a general weariness with the inactive and unhelpful admins that reached a breaking point with u/chooter’s removal from Reddit.

The moderators volunteer a lot of time and effort to make Reddit awesome, and they feel that Reddit itself is not helping and in some cases, even making things more difficult for them.

This leaves me with two overwhelming impressions.

One, Victoria Taylor was exceptionally good at what she did. Reddit did not realize they’d need a suitable replacement.

Victoria’s a largely unknown woman in tech who’s an excellent curator, a communications expert, a PR rep, an active power user and an enabler who was instrumental in getting things done.

Reddit is a massive machine that moves with help from thousands of interesting people who contribute, moderate and manage content. But the one cog that apparently held most of AMAs together was u/chooter. She was let go after a disastrous AMA with Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Cached version:

Whether this was the right or the wrong thing to do is beyond me. Ellen Pao and the board might have had their reasons for making the decision, but they definitely didn’t foresee the consequences and plan for it, leaving many in the lurch.

Two, running a user community needs a high level of camaraderie and empathy. Neither of which seems to be Reddit’s forte.

Victoria, as skilled as she is, ‘got’ Reddit. In her AMA, it was clear that moderators were on good terms with her and many of them even looked up to her. This was one of the reasons why this has struck an emotional chord with them.

This is a clear lesson that you cannot run a tightly-knit online community when you don’t understand your users. Reddit’s top management simply didn’t know how the mods would react to Victoria’s sacking.

And they’ve been slow to respond to requests and change logs from power users. When key players in your community feel neglected, it’s not a good sign.

In response to #RedditRevolt, the management is trying to do some damage control but it’s not going down too well. And Voat is having a field day with the droves of Reddit users who are switching to their app and crashing it.

I wonder how this is going to play out in the next few days.