I was waiting with a lot of anticipation yesterday's AMA by /u/spez aka Steve Huffman, the co-founder / ex-CEO / new-CEO of reddit; and I certainly wasn't the only one. He actually announced it two days prior, and within few minutes past 9pm (London time), the /r/announcements sub moved from few hundred or so users to 41 thousand. The reaction was steady at 1,000 comments every 10 minutes for the next 2 hours. Also because it was expected, journalists were on the case and the first corresponding news outlet's article popped up within 20 minutes. (I think it was a girl at the Verge, but I am not sure, don't actually remember...)
To say that the AMA was disappointing would be an understatement. The entire text of the post, and the subsequent spez' one liners during the actual AMA could be TL;DR'ed as "I/we have no idea why we are here, and what we are doing, why don't you [users] give us a clue".
Reddit Inc. got 50 millions in investments not long ago. They are a small team, do not pay the moderators of the site, and from their own saying do not have and will not have any money problem for a long time. If any, this is nice, and ensures that in any case there is no rush.
Now let us step back a little bit. This all mess started with actual harassment spawning from the now defunct /r/fatpeoplehate. It wasn't even the contents of the sub, but the behaviour of the users (and its moderators apparently) which lead to the decision to ban it. Unfortunately, somebody, somewhere, and I am looking at you Ellen Pao, completely miscommunicated the thing. First of all, this ban didn't require a general announcement. A note at the door of the sub saying "This sub has been banned because the behaviour of its moderators and users has been contrary to reddit's rules" would have been more than enough and beside the users of the sub itself, and few people on /r/conspiracy and cie, nobody would notice. That being said, Ellen Pao's personae has always been controversial and the speculations regarding the real motivations for the ban would then run wild in everybody's mind, too wild probably, therefore justifying, at least in the mind of the admins and the CEO, the need to try and look professional about it, ie: announcement.
The problem, though, is that trying to be professional about it backfired in the most interesting ways. You see, /r/fatpeoplehate wasn't at all and has never been the worst of reddit, by far, prompting the obvious questions: what about the rest ? what about the really nasty corners ? why are they still alive ?
Those are actually legitimate questions. I mean, I don't mind /r/coontown, for instance, mostly because I don't identify as black. I mean, I get worked up about stupid mistakes in analysis books, but as a general rule I don't get offended by hate directed at groups of people (I am more sensitive to hate directed at specific people, above all when unjustified -- but that's just my individualism showing up), after all, if you could scan my brain and actually see what I think about religious people, you would understand why /r/coontown feels like mild child play to me.... Anyway.
Moving from bad to worse, the fact that Reddit and Ellen Pao didn't have answers to those questions has lead to people revolting; and yes, the fact that Victoria was fired at the same time, in dubious circumstances, turned that already bad situation into the shitstorm that resulted in Pao's decommision.
Introducing Steve Huffman. You see, Steve is "one of us", he built reddit. He certainly knows what he is doing, right guys?..., and everything is going to be all right (tm). Well, no. And today's Verge article, written by a grown up (T.C. Sottek), says it better than I could ever: Reddit needs a real leader .
So here is the problem with Reddit. Reddit has a choice to make. Either it
- proudly remains a bastion of laissez-faire, because that's what it wants to be, and in this case people who don't like it can just go (back) to Facebook or,
- grows up, clean its act up, polices up and takes the hit.
The former would look distasteful and ugly to people with "sensibilities", but would also be freaking awesome, simply because if there has to be on the Surface Web at least one place of total mess and a troll heaven (on a background of cat pictures), then reddit is in best position (if not deserves) to be it (4chan is just too edgy for mainstream).
The latter is a real problem, because more than half of its subs will have to be shut down, you know... for consistency and stuff (they are currently avoiding it, but at some point won't be able to anymore). It would be a logistic nightmare, because unless the source code is updated (which can be done), there simply won't be enough manpower among the admins to undo what users can do to the site. Not to mention that it would be disastrous for the main site, because the homeless trolls' hate will spill to 'front' and they might as well shut down the site if this happens. And, last but not least, in terms of analytics this would be bad, with possible user exodus to alternatives (there aren't actually any alternative to Reddit, but some think that Voat might be, I don't think so, in any case huge loss of users).
Interestingly the people who put money into Reddit, who are certainly clever, but also figure driven, must be thinking that all things being equal, anything that would result in a drop of page views per unit of time is worse that any alternative. After all, Pao herself, in her leaving note, said that the reason for her leaving was that she could not meet the board's user growth expectations for the near future; if any this says that the new CEO certainly won't do anything that would reduce the user figures. So it looks like we have an interesting situation: regardless of whether you like reddit or not, you have to admit that it was 'pure' (at least was worry free, hangover-ing from one sweet-16 to another -- or the male equivivalent). Now that money has been injected into it (both literally and figuratively -- with people of the mindset of Pao), the obvious path to profitability will destroy it from within. Steve Huffman knows this, they all know it and they don't like it, not anymore than the users do.
Update [18th July]: Well, reddit got the Taiwanese animation treatment :-)