How many software engineers does it take to operate a site that serves over 1 billion pageviews a month? At Reddit, the answer is (hopefully) one, at least for now.
Yesterday Senior Software Engineer Mike “Raldi” Schiraldi resigned to take on his “dream job” at Google, leaving the total headcount of software engines at one. David King left last week to join Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian at Hipmunk.
After eclipsing Digg to take the top spot amongst social news sites, Reddit has seen little in the way of “love” from their owners, Conde Nast. Promises have been made to dramatically increase the size of the skeleton crew that keeps the site running, but is that really enough?
Reddit is the biggest, most powerful social media site that nobody has heard of. It’s community is amongst the most passionate on the Internet and the potential to monetize the site is high. Unfortunately, T-Shirts, minor advertising commitments, and donations in the form of Reddit Gold memberships are the only things keeping it generating cash.
Will Conde Nast ever realize what they have in Reddit?
The Unwanted Potential
Very few communities are as powerful as Reddit. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have more users, but the semi-unified front that Reddit is able to muster behind various causes is in a league of its own. From helping people find stolen computers to building support for political rallies, Reddit is as much a meeting place as it is a news aggregation site.
However, Reddit is not a community that necessarily wants the attention of the rest of the world. It has always maintained an unofficial sense of superiority that makes it unapproachable for many… including advertisers. Conde Nast has the power to change that.
Much like Russell Crowe’s character Maximus in the movie Gladiator, Reddit doesn’t want to be the emperor. Avid users would rather go about their business, share interesting and entertaining pieces of media, and posting the best comments on the web. Power? It simply doesn’t cross their mind.
What Conde Nast Can Do
When a top-100 site worldwide continues to grow the way it does, there are only two real options that won’t squander the opportunity it presents. The popular choice (at least from the perspective of the Reddit community) would be to sell the site to a company that believes in what Reddit represents and that is willing to support the site with more resources. Few parent companies have been met with as much scorn from their own site as Reddit has dished towards Conde Nast.
The less popular, riskier possibility is to utilize the tremendous power that Reddit wields to promote “hidden” advertisers. Companies would pay money to get pageviews to positive press about them, particularly in the tech and entertainment industries as well as in political campaigns. It’s dirty. It’s evil. It’s definitely been considered by Conde Nast.
It may be going on currently without even the Reddit staff being fully aware.
Few sites can send the mass of quick traffic that Reddit can. Stories can get over 100k views in a day. Images can get much more than that. Having the ability and the power to promote stories artificially from the start would potentially send that story to the land of mass exposure if the content is strong enough to get through the community itself.
Redditors could never know. They would find the content. They would obliterate it. Then, they would attack the companies responsible for the paid promotions. It would get ugly.
If done right, however, it could be a dangerous weapon. Imagine a negative story about a political candidate’s rival. A little promotion could help the story skyrocket. It wouldn’t simply be the Reddit effect alone. Many sites find content through Reddit to report on or repost. Twitter is the only venue that is arguably as fast at spreading news virally and it never reaches the number of pageviews that Reddit can send.
Again, it would be a huge risk to both Conde Nast and their “clients.”
If it could be pulled off, the result would be revenue generation potentials unlike anything the site has ever produced. Will it happen? Of course not. In many ways, Conde Nast fears what Reddit can do to them. It’s not the kind of community that one would ever want to make angry.