Monday, February 27, 2012

Reddit: Community-Sourced News

I wrote the following summary of Reddit for someone I met at a party this weekend.  She is an executive producer at a local news channel, and hadn't heard of Reddit (though she had heard of Digg).  It's surprising how easy it is to get carried away with a "short summary" once you get started.

Reddit.com, which begin in 2005, now averages 35 million unique viewers and over 2 billion page views each month.  It contains more than 100,000 sub-communities, of which about 10% have more than 100 people in them.  Reddit is the 50th most popular web site in the United States, and 119th in the world.  The community is truly global, and the connections it forms are instantaneous.  The basic premise is simple: visitors to the site submit links to anything (news articles, pictures, videos) and other users vote on those stories.  The links with the most votes in a day rise to the top.  Each link also has a "comments" section, where other visitors can post responses to the link.  Comments work on the same principle as the links, they are "upvoted" or "downvoted" and the best rise to the top.

If you go to the Reddit home page without being signed in, you'll get a mish-mash of garbage.  The top 10 communities are too popular, and attract all sorts of fluff - pictures of cats, discussions about video games, all stuff that panders to the least common denominator.

Instead, if you pick and choose 10 or 15 communities from off of the beaten path and put them together, you can get a lot of really good information very quickly.  Here are 10 germane groups I picked from my list about 60.


One of the most interesting communities you'll see on that page above is the IAMA, which is short for "I Am A..." - this is a crowd-sourced interview platform.  Celebrities, scientists, and public figures come to Reddit to answer questions directly from the masses.  One of the most successful interviews recently was from Neil deGrasse Tyson, noted physicist.  The questions and the answers are very raw (e.g. "What course should everyone take in college?" Answer: "how to tell when someone else is full of s***.") but it lends a great deal of authenticity.  The community has supported young artists and filmmakers who have come to do interviews, and they have turned quickly on big stars who come just to make a quick buck (Woody Harrelson's PR company convinced him to try an interview on Reddit but didn't tell him you can't just pitch a movie; Reddit boycotted the movie).

Reddit has been making waves the past few years.  The community is the source of the Guinness world record largest Secret Santa gift exchange.  It was on Reddit that a user first came up with the idea for Stephen Colbert to hold a counter-rally to Glenn Beck in 2010, and the community rallied to make the Restoring Sanity rally a success (raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity in the process).  Members of the community have gone one to great personal success, including James Erwin, who turned a single comment he made on the site into a movie script deal with Warner Brothers.  The site has its own year-end awards for the best post, the best comment, and the best community of the previous year.

Rome Sweet Rome started as a comment left by James Erwin on Reddit.
With 100,000 communities, there are groups for everything.  Most major (and some minor) localities have their own groups (e.g. Baltimore and D.C.) as do sports teamsbrands, and even jokes.  There are groups dedicated to saving the environment, discussing Christianity and atheism, debating politics, and more.  There's even a group dedicated to having real-world meetups of Redditors in various places.

Reddit has been moving more and more into politics recently.  With the SOPA/PIPA fiasco over the last few months, the community has felt very threatened by politicians who simply have no understanding of how the internet works.  Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian was at the forefront of the SOPA debate, and would have testified before Congress had the hearings actually gone on as planned.  In the aftermath, Reddit formed its own PAC and has decided to launch a full-scale effort to remove Rep. Lamar Smith (the sponsor and tone-deaf spokesperson for SOPA) from office this year.

Once you recognize the little alien logo, you'll see it everywhere, including CBS prime time.

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