Reddit isn’t profitable, despite having more than 50 million daily active users. In preparation for an IPO, CEO Steve Huffman put the platform’s API behind a giant paywall and denounced the attitude of third-party developers and Reddit’s own moderators. What does the future of “the front page of the Internet” look like?
Reddit’s setup has long remained relatively simple. Users (Redditors) have organically divided themselves into subforums (subreddits), cultivating a large ecosystem of third-party tools and alternative apps in the process. The use of moderators was also set up without an overarching plan. Indeed, whoever came up with the idea to create a particular subreddit in the early days of the platform over 15 years ago may well still be the lead moderator today. It doesn’t matter if the topic for said subforum was politics, the NBA or knitting.
Thanks to its free API and the ingenuity of the userbase, a considerable infrastructure has been built up around Reddit, from mod tools that can automate their work to the mining of user data for commercial purposes. News sites owe many clicks to the largely democratically driven Reddit feed, too. All this despite Reddit’s perennially disappointing financial results. This is ultimately unsustainable, which we have written about before.
Starting with a clean slate?
From Elon Musk’s tumultuous reign at Twitter, one can see that a social media company certainly has to sow chaos for months on end before people walk away, which we are actually seeing signs of at the moment . Consequently, there are those who would like to answer Reddit’s unwanted behaviour by launching an alternative. That’s easier said than done, because a userbase doesn’t migrate overnight.
What Huffman is clearly looking for is control. Not only is the API now prohibitively expensive, but he’s also targeted the supposed infallibility of moderators. Remarkably, a “senior mod” can currently simply eject any junior partner from the moderator team or take away their privileges. Similarly, one giant subreddit may allow virtually any content imaginable, while another with a similar subject is kept in line in Stalinist fashion.
This is what the API protests revealed as well, as a mod team could decide to go dark without input from its own users. This led to frustration among many Redditors who just wanted access to the platform and had no interest in the actions of the company behind it. The same is true of other decisions that mods may make. For example, the well-known Ask-me-Anything subreddit has no desire to invite celebrities any longer, something that has generated a significant portion of newsworthy developments on the platform.
Huffman has already expressed his willingness to have mods democratically removed. It is also conceivable that people at Reddit will hand-pick those who will coordinate the largest subreddits. That way it isn’t the userbase, but Reddit’s management that starts with a clean slate.
Just as the Internet has become increasingly structured, one of the largest networks to connect the Internet seems to be heading in that direction. This will cause the culture on Reddit to change. While the vast majority of users themselves add little to what others see on Reddit, it is the motivated few that post content and fuel the discussions that others come for. This group in particular feels hard hit by the downplaying of third-party apps and the news coverage of more control from corporate bosses.
Another major thorny issue for Reddit is that its own mobile application is mediocre to say the least. It is unreliable, destroys battery life and offers far fewer accessibility options than other apps. In addition, it is fundamentally unusable for people with certain disabilities, which has prompted the platform to at least provide an API exemption for applications that do facilitate this group of users.
In other words, it is possible that the hostility toward its own user core already makes the platform a lot more unattractive to others, as they are more likely to be motivated to pack their bags and stop posting. After all, who goes to a social media platform if the content is not worthwhile – or not even there?
Within one’s own company walls
According to reports from Business Insider, there is quite an uproar within the company’s own corporate walls on top of all this. For example, employees stated to the outlet that it is unclear whether layoffs are coming, who they would involve and when this will be announced. People also have much less confidence in management than before.
It should lead to a flattening in the corporate hierarchy. As a result, one might expect Reddit to also change its tune and come up with more ideas to innovate rather than take away what has made it so popular in the first place. That will be necessary, too, now that Huffman and co have upended the entire ecosystem around the platform. As they say, it’s easier to destroy than to create.