Every year (for a whopping 3 years running!) we highlight who we believe is the top social media site of the year. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s not based on (much) empirical data. There’s no voting. The team sits down and argues for an hour on Skype and I write up the piece.
This is a crappy little blog and the “award” means nothing, but I can say this much – we really do explore social media every day and do whatever we can to find what’s good and bad about it. We’re not gurus. Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk do not visit this site regularly (ever?). Long story short, our opinion means nothing.
That doesn’t stop us from giving it.
In 2009 it was Digg (hitting it’s high point) and Twitter (gaining relevance). In 2010 it was Facebook (for dominating social networking) and Tumblr (for coming into their own as a content site).
In 2011, there was a shorter discussion than previous years. There was no doubt whether or not Reddit would be the winner. The only question was whether it should share the award with notables such as Google+ (for starting off on the right foot), Facebook again (for extending their domination), or StumbleUpon (for making tremendous strides in traffic and technology). In the end, we decided that Reddit had achieved by far more than the others and needed to stand alone.
Forget the Traffic
Reddit exploded this year in traffic. That’s only relevant to people who care about such things. The Reddit community (and in ways, the staff itself) view this explosion with a hearty “meh”. It’s not what made Reddit the player that it is today (even though it’s nice to have).
The real winner here was the community. There are those who say the community component is deteriorating thanks to the bump in traffic. They say the content quality is lower and the site looks more like (gulp) Digg 2009 with memes flooding the front pages. It’s no wonder that subreddits like Pics, Funny, and others have broken the 1 million mark in subscribers.
Still, the community remains strong because of the anti-community sentiment.
The only thing that stuck with me from 9th grade biology class was a lesson I learned about routines. The teacher and I argued that everyone has routines. As a cocky and headstrong 14-yr old, I challenged the notion and boldly stated that I did not allow things to become so mundane that they were routine. She said that everyone dries themselves after a shower the same way every time.
A week later, I proudly walked in and announced that I was no longer part of the shower-drying-routine club. I had made a choice to break from the psychological urge to repeat the same thing over and over again day after day. I was smug. I had won.
“Yep!” I said. She smiled. I started to get worried.
“So,” she said, “you do this same thing every day, every time you take a shower.”
Damn. Trying to avoid routine had become my routine.
What does this have to do with Reddit? Despite the fact that every day older members of the community point out how Reddit has changed, how the community aspect has gone down the tubes, that the intellectual level that once was Reddit has turned to memes and images only, they still contribute to making Reddit the most brain-driving social network around.
This community that bashes each other daily in the comments is constantly improving itself as a result. By not liking what Reddit has become compared to what it was 2 or 3 years ago, it’s fixing itself. 4Chan went through a similar change but the partitions remained. At Reddit, they seem to be conquering the dumbing down of the site by intellectualizing the dumbing down of the site.
That’s the part that makes the community so strong, but it’s not the end result.
The End Result
Reddit has become relatively powerful, perhaps more powerful as a tight community than any other. Facebook has more users. Twitter has more reach. Reddit, however, bands together in ways that Twitter and Facebook do not.
Just look at GoDaddy. You can trace back the mass exodus that they are experiencing (today, as a matter of fact) to the Reddit community’s reaction to their support of SOPA.
Just look at Neil deGrasse Tyson. His first AMA ended up with over 11000 comments. I guaranty he could not have had that much interaction on the bigger social networks if he promoted it on television first.
Just look at Lucas (pictured above). His story is inspiring for more than just the Reddit community. It may not be as much money as a sustainable Facebook campaign could bring in over months, but for a 12-hour burst, it’s huge. Other networks would fail miserably trying to engage and roll out that quickly.
Most recently, look at the Secret Santa initiative. ‘Nuf said.
Reddit has become THE community that has been able to maintain an elitist posture while still having mass appeal. The majority of the population wouldn’t give the site a second look – it’s Draconian design is a notch above the Drudge Report. Even if the majority of the population were to explore the site, they would be aghast by some of the content (particularly in the “back to our roots” WTF subreddit) and would blush at many of the comments.
It’s not a mainstream site like Facebook or Twitter and hopefully it never will be. The site is big enough to be relevant but cozy enough to be exclusive. One of my proudest moments came the other day when I introduced (against my wife’s urging) my 16-yr old son to the site. He’s mature enough to handle it and a budding troll in the making, so I took the leap and brought him into the mix. “No posting or commenting yet, son. Just observe and learn.”
What will 2012 bring? Hopefully, more of the same. More excellent content. More game-changing activism. More altruistic giving.
Love ALL the Reddits!