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Reading into Reddit

By Julian Aidan, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 31, 2013

“shittyaskscience” is a satirical take on “AskScience,” one of many discussion-centric boards where users interested in everything from history (“AskHistorians”) to programming (“Python,” “learnprogramming”). Most cities have one as well as universities, sports teams (/r/MichiganWolverines), states, celebrities, languages and hobbies. What sets the site apart from others, though, is its userbase.

“Reddit isn’t just the front-page content or an image board or a link aggregator — it’s got so many different parts and has become a platform and tool for a community, as well as a community itself,” Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, said in an interview with The Michigan Daily.

Virtual to physical

The 260 million comments and 400 million unique visitors in 2012 attest to that. As do massive community-driven initiatives such as the Random Acts of Pizza and Assistance subreddits, which offer food, advice and aid to members going through rough times.

Other Reddit-based initiatives anchored offline include location-specific, real-life meetups and Guinness World Record-setting Secret Santa gift exchange, which included more than 58,000 participants in 126 countries in 2012.

Reddit has been open-source since 2008, and many developments have come from contributions from the community. Third-party sites like metareddit and stattit aggregate data about traffic and content.

“We’ve worked really hard this past year on (improving) open-source and developer resources,” said Martin. “They’ll enable the community and third-party developers and students doing cool research projects to make some really cool stuff on and with Reddit.”

“Offline meetups have played a big part, especially at the local level,” Martin said about the influence of the Reddit community and the sense of community at the subreddit level. “In the big cities, people are meeting up offline … almost once a day.”

The transcendence of interaction from the virtual to the physical adds another layer of solidity to Reddit’s community.

There’s something for everyone on Reddit, and it’s for this reason that the site is so immensely popular. It’s not entirely without its drawbacks — Reddit’s 20-some-odd person team sometimes struggles to keep up with the size and variability of the site, and not all subreddits are the most enjoyable places on earth. But the team is aware of what they need to do for Reddit in the future and are taking steps to make it happen.

“Improvements we’ve made in the infrastructure will pay off in some interesting ways in the next year … (and) talking with the community as openly as we can about how to make money, I think will be interesting,” Martin said. “This site doesn’t run itself and we don’t have huge costs, but we need to somehow make money and we want to do that the right way, and having that whole conversation out in public with our community is the only way to do it … I think people will appreciate that.”

Following Digg’s v4 remodeling where it became heavily littered with advertising, Reddit experienced a surge in its userbase. The massive influx permanently shaped Reddit, eventually leading to the site it is today.

A one-sided conversation

One of the real and tangible drawbacks for discussion is Reddit’s somewhat liberally-biased and demographically-skewed community.

“There’s what they call the ‘Hivemind,’ which is (when) once a popular opinion has been established or upvoted enough, people don’t seem to think critically and independently anymore; they just say ‘yeah, that guy, what he said,’ ” Davis explained.

This can lead to some pretty one-sided conversations — especially when it comes to touchy subjects such as politics and religion. Engineering freshman Damian Rotarov has also noticed the groupthink mentality on the site.

“Because there are so many people, it can really open your eyes to some of the problems in the world,” Rotarov said.