Is Reddit Too Big?

Reddit Dog

It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve heard of Reddit or ever visited it. If you watch the news, check your Facebook feed, or see a meme on a regular basis, the chance that you’ve seen content that originated from or spread as a result of Reddit is nearly 100%.

They released their 2012 numbers last week and they’re nothing short of spectacular:

  • 37 Billion Pageviews
  • 400 Million Unique Visitors
  • 4 Billion Votes
  • 30 Million Posts
  • 260 Million Comments

All of this means they’re the envy of every social media site in the world, they’re coveted by publications who would love to get a taste of the tremendous traffic that the front page can send, and their tagline, “the front page of the internet”, is as true as it gets. Looking at the website and the path of the various subreddits, one has to wonder if they’ve gotten too big.

It was the best kept secret in social media for many years. It was the source of the content that adorned the front page of Digg when the social news site was still a thing. It continues to make comedic kings out of Facebook users whose friends and family don’t visit Reddit regularly and it has given sites like 9Gag and Tumblr a constant flow of meme-worthy images.

As it continues to hit the mainstream with AMAs (Ask Me Anything) sessions from famous people such as President Obama, Snoop Dogg Lion, ans PSY, the secret site is no longer a secret by any means. What effects has its popularity had?

Revenue may or may not be up. The management team has never seemed too interested in making more money than what is required to keep the site running. Activity is clearly up; earlier in 2012 there was a race to see which subreddit, r/pics or r/funny, would hit the 1 million subscriber mark. Now, several subreddits have eclipsed the magic number. Content is way up. Some subreddits receive several submissions every minute.

Spam has not been an issue. The volunteer moderators in the major subreddits keep a close eye on their charges and the community is swift with spam reports.

With all of these things happening at the site, one might think that it’s not getting too big. I would argue against that. The site community is still strong but has suffered from a deterioration of quality in much of the content. This is due to a quick-trigger-finger on upvotes for headlines that sound like they support the general leaning of the community and downvotes on headlines that appear to head in the other direction. The site is exceptionally left-leaning and favors atheism over other opinions on religion. As a result, a pro-Republican or pro-Christian headline has almost zero chance of gracing the front page of r/politics or any of the other major subreddits.

Another challenge is in attribution. The site’s two most powerful image-based subreddits, r/pics and r/funny, have an inherent love for content posted from Imgur.com. Started by a Redditor, the site has created a voting system of its own that is a minor threat to Reddit. Redditors don’t seem to mind – they still post the vast majority of their images from Imgur.

That’s where the problem comes in. Since Imgur does not create images and since many of the images found on Imgur and Reddit are taken from other sites rather than shot by the submitter, attribution is minimal. Great visual content produced by or for other websites get “ripped” onto Imgur because they will either be deleted by moderators or downvoted to oblivion for trying to take credit for their own work.

The worst part of the growth of Reddit is that the ways of old where the communities in particular subreddits, the larger image subreddits in particular, would latch onto themes for a day or two has gone to a new level. It is too easy to take advantage of the community’s love for certain types of pictures. For example, a user could go to a jewelry store, pick out a ring, take a picture of it, and post it to r/pics with the title, “Today’s the day. Wish me luck!” The post will get tons of upvotes and views.

There’s a sincerity issue as well. Reddit leans towards approving personalized experiences rather than generic titles. “My girlfriend painted this” will do better than “Here’s a cool painting I found.” As a result, it’s fairly common for users to rip images and fake the headlines. The worst of this can be seen in the cases where a picture of someone or an animal is titled with a heartstring-pulling title about how they recently died. It happens, though nobody wants to talk about that.

The sad part is that it’s often done in the name of “Karma”. Users receive points based upon how popular their posts and comments become. The more upvotes they get, the more Karma points they get. While these points are absolutely meaningless and do nothing for the user, there will always be “karma whores” who post for the sake of fluffing up their score. The gamification of Reddit has always been there, but the popularity of the site has taken it to a whole other level.

Reddit has a bright future overall. The content and community are still strong and improving despite deterioration in the quality of both based upon sheer size. It shows no signs of slowing down. Will it eventually get too big for its own good?

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