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The Truth About Reddit

The Benefits of Neglectful Ownership, Where Gawker and BuzzFeed Get Their 'Inspiration,' and More

By Published on . 4

1. Reddit has become, simply put, mainstream media.
As noted in Ad Age recently, Reddit closed out 2012 with more than 37 billion page views and 400 million unique visitors. Even people who don't check the so-called social-news site regularly -- or at all -- constantly experience the Reddit Effect because ...

2. The mainstream blog media is almost ridiculously (even pathetically) dependent on Reddit.
Reddit has a state-of-the-art-circa-1998, text-centric user interface, but its critical mass and core upvote/downvote system has allowed it to become a sort of real-time cultural Zeitgeistometer. A post that captures the imagination of Reddit readers (aka Redditors) gets upvoted and then speeds to Reddit's home page (and/or the home pages of Reddit's major topical verticals, e.g., reddit.com/r/worldnews, reddit.com/r/funny, etc.).

And then an hour or two -- or 12 or 24 -- later, there's a really good chance you're going to see that popular Reddit post repurposed on Gawker or BuzzFeed. Well, the silly or controversial stuff, at least. (The random nerdy/newsy topical stuff that Redditors upvote -- like last Wednesday's front-pager about chickpea farming -- tends to stay in the Redditverse.)

Take, for instance, a photo-based post on Reddit's home page last Tuesday afternoon titled "My friend got photobombed by Kevin Spacey out jogging." I thought to myself: That is so totally ending up on Gawker and BuzzFeed. Sure enough, at 10:37 that night, BuzzFeed's Whitney Jefferson posted it with the headline "Kevin Spacey's Awesome Photobomb" (as of this writing she's "earned" 64,169 page views for that). The next morning at 9:25, Gawker's Neetzan Zimmerman posted it with the headline "Kevin Spacey Shouts 'Photobomb' Before Jogging Into Woman's Picture" (130,608 page views and counting).

Reddit's longtime tagline is "The front page of the internet," but it could just as easily be "The crib sheet for weary bloggers who need to hit page-view quotas."

3. If you regularly read Reddit, it makes the rest of the internet seem stale.
In fact, the Reddit community (such that it is) is more or less resigned to serving as a sort of unpaid crowdsourced wire service for BuzzFeed, Gawker, etc.

4. Reddit's apology was nice but unnecessary.
Reddit got a lot of bad press recently (which is why I'm writing about it now) for being a hotbed of rumors about the Boston bombings. In fact, Reddit's management publicly apologized to the family of missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi (whose body has since been found) because some Redditors speculated he might have been involved in the bombings.

You know what? Humans, especially during times of crisis and confusion, speculate. They do it offline and, in 2013, they increasingly do it online. The fact of the matter is that one of the Boston suspects (later revealed to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev) seen in the early grainy surveillance-video stills released by the FBI did resemble Tripathi.

And Reddit actually has much better checks and balances in place -- thanks to a combination of the upvote system and moderator intervention -- than, say, the scary troll-fest reader-comment sections of much of the rest of the web.

In the aftermath of the Boston bombings, fleeting speculation about Tripathi aside, Reddit was overwhelmingly a force for good -- "a great clearinghouse for information," as Reddit General Manager Erik Martin pointed out in a reflective blog post, and an often-galvanizing "place to just discuss, cope and try to make sense of what happened."

For years now, Reddit has been one of the great joys of my life as a citizen of the internet -- the one place on the web where I'm pretty much always rewarded, even on brief visits. It enlightens me and makes me laugh, and alarmingly often, makes my eyes well up with tears. (Reddit is better than any other place on the internet for surfacing moving first-person narratives -- including one from a Boston Marathon volunteer who became an ad hoc first-responder.) It sometimes feels almost too good to be true. Which is why I'm thankful that...

5. Reddit is owned by neglectful billionaires.
Reddit was founded by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian in June 2005, acquired by Condé Nast in October 2006, and in 2011 shifted over to being an independent subsidiary of Condé's parent company, Advance Publications.

Under Condé's purview, Reddit was cash-strapped and understaffed -- a sort of redheaded stepchild of the famously luxe magazine empire. Under Advance, it's not as sidelined. But thankfully, given that Advance is owned by octogenarian print-media billionaires Si and Donald Newhouse, neither of whom are exactly web-savvy, it's not like Reddit is a major focus of corporate attention, either.

I'm convinced that if just about any other major media or tech company had bought Reddit, it would have been smothered to death through micromanaging by now.

Hooray for neglectful old-media billionaires!

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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