Reddit has come miles since its initial post back on June 23, 2005. In fact, some might think the biggest issue with that first post is that cofounder Alexis Ohanian had literally every clever Reddit screen name at his disposal and he chose the weakly punny “Knothing.”
But it’s pretty clear that Reddit has come a long way in its pursuit of cultural relevance … in fact, for a 10-year-old site, it’s pretty mature. But what does it all mean? Let’s look back together over some of the major events that have sculpted “The Front Page of The Internet” into the touchstone it is today and we can decide together if Reddit is worth a damn.
Perhaps most often, Reddit is seen as a vile place full of toxic snark, hatred and, until recently, lawlessness. But with Ellen Pao stepping in as CEO and Ohanian’s return from his Hipmunk venture, Reddit has been reconditioning itself as a place where positive freethinking thrives and intellectual curiosity is satiated … or at least cultivated. Of course, there’s still plenty of naked ladies and weird butt stuff for us creeps, but more than ever, the shift on Reddit is moving away from, say, “Burning Man meets Spring Break, Lake Havasu, 2008,” and hewing towards a more ehh, I hate say enlightened era (because a lot of modern theory is altruistic but flat out wrong), so lets say a beneficent dawn.
With the excommunication of sites like r/fatpeoplehate, a lot of the mires where intolerant people plotted and schemed were dried up, forcing the angry mobs to go elsewhere. First they got rid of the creeps and perverts in 2012 with the closing of r/creepshots, now the hate mongers are out as well. So what’s left? Surprisingly a lot.
In early December 2010, members of the Christianity subreddit decided to hold a fundraiser and later members of the atheism subreddit decided to give some friendly competition, cross-promoting fundraising drives for (Doctors Without Borders) and World Vision’s Clean Water Fund, respectively. Later, the Islam subreddit joined in, raising money for Islamic Relief. In less than a week, the three communities (as well as the Reddit community at large) raised over $50,000. Most of this was raised by the atheism subreddit, though the smaller Christianity subreddit had a higher average donation amount per subscriber. A similar donation drive in 2011 saw the atheism subreddit raise over $200,000 for charity.
Granted, it’s for a twisted pissing contest from the atheists, who are threatening to eclipse the born-again christians as the most obnoxious people to sit next to on a long airplane ride, but money is money as far as charities should be concerned. Additionally, Reddit’s Secret Santa program is a global integrator: “92 countries were involved in the Secret Santa program. There were 17,543 participants, and $662,907.60 was collectively spent on gift purchases and shipping costs,” according to VentureBeat. ” Sure it would be better if there was a way to do something more positive with that money than just buy stuff, but not everything has to be a charity initiative.
Also, the site has brought out intellectual minds from all walks of life to be pestered with all manner of questions about whether the interviewee remembers them from “this one time…” in the form of AMAs — Ask Me Anything. The biggest so far came from President Barack Obama taking comments like, “Chad and I are ordering a pizza — you want in?” That’s the snark and wisecracking that has kept Reddit so vibrant over the years. That and the ability to down vote the trolls into oblivion — a technique that YouTube has yet to formally adopt.
But there are still mishaps, most notably the Boston Bombing in 2012, when the Reddit community decided to play detective and falsely identify people, one of whom was later found to have committed suicide.
The Fappening, a large online posting of nude celebrity photos stolen from Apple accounts, ran right through Reddit. While Reddit worked hard to delete the images and shutter the subreddit’s that popped up around them, the incident was still a watershed moment for bringing in attention and new eyes to the site. Come for the naked celebrities, stay for the hate” could have been the slogan up until a couple weeks ago.
Less controversial was a certain locked safe discovered in a house that kept users on edge for weeks waiting to discover what was inside (hint: nothing!). Or what about one of Reddit’s most popular postings ever — the little kid who knocked on a random door and asked for a banana? Where else could such a story get so much love?
Reddit’s cultural identity is still being forged and reforged — even as we speak. With 10 years behind it, it’s safe to say the site is sticking around. But what will it look like going forward? How long until the atheists are banned? How long until the redial crowd gets the hint that they are obnoxious? When will the subreddit r/SubredditDrama become the dominating hub for activity?
Maybe all that never happens? But that’s what’s exciting about a platform like Reddit: with regards to its posts and its philosophy, you just don’t know what’s coming next. Good or bad, Reddit is growing up and doing a damn fine job of it.
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