Reddit, a platform that has become synonymous with cute cat pictures, investment advice, niche hobby discussions, celebrity interviews, edgy memes, and wholesome content, has been a central hub for online discussions since its inception in 2005. With approximately 57 million daily active users engaging in a plethora of content, including news, memes, questions, and stock tips, Reddit has garnered a massive and dedicated community over the years.
In a significant development, the company filed for an initial public offering (IPO) in late 2021, with the goal of achieving profitability for the first time. As part of its strategy, Reddit decided to monetize its application programming interface (API) by charging for access. This move led to a series of consequences, including the shutdown of beloved third-party Reddit apps such as Apollo, sparking an uproar among the website’s volunteer moderators who heavily rely on these third-party apps to manage the platform’s 100,000+ discussion communities, known as subreddits.
The pricing changes for the API took effect on July 1, 2023, despite extensive protests from thousands of moderators who took their communities private in protest. Under pressure from Reddit administrators, most communities eventually reopened, but tensions remained high. Some passionate users threatened to abandon Reddit altogether if the platform failed to rebuild trust.
The story of Reddit’s origins traces back to its co-founders, Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman, who were inspired by startup accelerator Y Combinator’s founder, Paul Graham, to create “the front page of the Internet.” Initially, the platform saw limited user activity, but it rapidly gained traction, leading to its acquisition by Condé Nast for $10 million in just 16 months after its founding. Subsequently, Reddit evolved into an independent company under the umbrella of Condé Nast’s owner, Advance Publications.
Despite Reddit’s potential for targeted advertising within its niche communities, the platform faced challenges due to its permissive approach towards questionable content and hate speech. Over the years, Reddit has taken steps to address these issues, including implementing an anti-harassment policy that led to the banning of some hateful communities. Additionally, the platform has faced scrutiny for its role in the spread of “meme stocks” during the GameStop short squeeze organized by users in the subreddit r/wallstreetbets.
With the goal of turning a profit, Reddit announced plans to charge companies for access to its API, which had previously been free. While this decision targeted tech giants like OpenAI and Google, it also affected popular third-party mobile apps and moderator tools that relied on the API. Many developers found the new pricing structure financially unviable and had to shut down their apps, much to the dismay of loyal users who preferred these alternatives to Reddit’s official app.
The API pricing changes prompted widespread protests, with over 8,000 subreddits participating in a sitewide blackout to express their discontent. Although most communities eventually returned to normal, some, like r/pics and r/gifs, adopted unique restrictions, while others decided to forgo organizing interviews with celebrities, affecting engagement levels.
Throughout these developments, Reddit’s response to moderator concerns has been met with frustration. The company’s executive chairman, Alexis Ohanian, returned to address some of the platform’s more toxic subcultures and promote diversity within the company. However, some moderators feel that their voices were not heard, and they were likened to “landed gentry” by CEO Steve Huffman, with their control over communities being criticized as undemocratic.
As Reddit moves towards its IPO, tensions between the platform and its community of moderators and users remain a point of scrutiny for the tech world. Many are calling for Reddit to listen to its passionate user base and collaborate with moderators and app developers to find solutions that benefit everyone involved. Ultimately, Reddit’s success may depend on its ability to regain trust and strike a balance between profitability and maintaining a thriving and diverse community of content creators and consumers.