reddit - David Heller

Overview

Reddit is a web platform which enables registered users to submit and discuss entries across a wide range of subject matter, such including news, sports, music, and more. These entries can take the form of text posts, direct links, or multimedia (Youtube videos, Gifs, pictures, etc.). Reddit defies characterization in that it is simultaneously an entertainment and news hub and a social networking service. This is accomplished through the dual aspects of Reddit's platform: posting and commenting.

What does it do? How does it work?

Reddit essentially functions as a bulletin board. It is made up of entries submitted by its registered users. When entries are submitted to the site, “redditors” (users) can vote for or against them (upvote/downvote). Entries are organized by areas of interest called "subreddits". Each subreddit has a front page that shows newer submissions that have been rated highly. Redditors can also post comments about the submission, responding back and forth in a conversation-tree of comments, which themselves can include links and can be “upvoted” and “downvoted” as well. The front page of the site itself shows a combination of the highest-rated posts out of all the subreddits a user is subscribed to. Front-page rank is determined by: age of the submission, positive ("upvoted") to negative ("downvoted") feedback ratio, and the total vote-count. Dozens of submissions cycle through the front page daily.

History
Reddit was founded in June 2005 by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, both 22-year-old graduates of the University of Virginia. The company received $100,000 in seed funding from Y Combinator, at the time, a 3 month old venture capital firm. As of 2013, Y Combinator has funded over 500 companies in over 30 different markets. In 2006, Reddit was acquired by Condé Nast Publications, a privately owned mass media company, for an undisclosed amount. In June, 2008, Reddit became an open source project, meaning it promotes:
1. universal access via free license to a product's design or blueprint
2. universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone
This shift to open source is indicative of what scientists believe to be the greater pattern of Open collaboration, defined as “any system of innovation or production that relies on goal-oriented yet loosely coordinated participants, who interact to create a product (or service) of economic value, which they make available to contributors and non-contributors alike." This concept can be seen as one of the underlying principles in Reddit’s ideology. In 2009, Huffman and Ohanian left Reddit to form Hipmunk, an online travel service. In July 2010, after experiencing an explosive growth in traffic, Reddit introduced Reddit Gold, adding new features available to user for $3.99/month or $29.99/year. These features include the ability to display more comments on a page, access to the private subreddit /r/lounge, and notifications whenever one's username is mentioned in a comment. In September, 2011, Reddit became operationally independent of Condé Nast, now operating as a separate subsidiary of its parent company, Advance Publications. In February, 2013, Reddit began accepting the digital currency bitcoin for its Reddit Gold subscription service through a partnership with bitcoin payment processor Coinbase.

Users

Registering an account with Reddit is free and does not require an email address to complete. When logged in, users have the ability to post and comment. By voting on submissions and comments users are able to increase or decrease their visibility. Users can also create their own subreddit based around any topic of their choosing.

Platform

Reddit was originally written in Common Lisp but was rewritten in Python in December 2005. Python is a widely used general-purpose, high-level programming language whose design philosophy emphasizes code readability. Reddit uses Amazon Web Services to host its servers and Amazon CloudSearch as its search engine.

Significance
In recent history, Reddit has been known as the instigator of several charity projects. In early October 2010, a story was posted on Reddit about a seven-year-old girl, Kathleen Edward, who was in the advanced stages of Huntington's disease. The girl's neighbors were taunting her and her family. Redditors banded together and gave the girl a shopping spree at Tree Town Toys, a toy store local to the story owned by a Reddit user. Reddit users donated $185,356.70 to Direct Relief International for Haiti after the earthquake devastated the island in January 2010. Reddit started the largest Secret Santa program in the world, which is still in operation to date. For the 2010 Holiday season, 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.
The Reddit Effect
The Reddit effect occurs when a smaller website, due to its appearance on Reddit, has a high influx of traffic due to Reddit. Because Reddit is such a large site, the explosion of traffic is immense and unanticipated and can easily crash smaller sites. In order for users to see crashed websites, several Reddit bots have been created that take a snapshot of the website before large amounts of traffic crash the site.

Controversies

- The website has a strong culture of free speech and very few rules about the types of content that may be posted. This has led to the creation of several communities that have been perceived as offensive, including forums dedicated to child pornography (since banned) and pictures of dead bodies. Several such subreddits were the focus of an edition of Anderson Cooper 360 in September 2011.
- Following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Reddit faced criticism after users wrongly identified a number of people as suspects. Reddit general manager Erik Martin later issued an apology for this behavior, criticizing the "online witch hunts and dangerous speculation" that took place on the website
- In January 2014, Mother Jones published a story describing the sale of guns on the site. The Guns for Sale subreddit, which counts more than 7,200 subscribers, offers buyers and sellers a forum on the site, which boasts tens of millions of users and drives major traffic to other websites. The report suggested that sellers were doing so to exploit a loophole in federal law.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The aforementioned controversies and charitable projects demonstrate the inherent strengths and weaknesses of Reddit. While Reddit provides a platform for nearly uninhibited freedom of speech and expression across an ever-expanding user base - enabling previously unheard of acts of incredible kindness - the exploitation of virtual anonymity afforded to users, as well as the inherent difficulties of managing such a large community, prove to be undeniable flaws in the system.