Home Tech First it was Facebook, then Twitter. Is Reddit about to become rubbish too? | Hussein Kesvani

First it was Facebook, then Twitter. Is Reddit about to become rubbish too? | Hussein Kesvani

by Elijah
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First it was Facebook, then Twitter. Is Reddit about to become rubbish too? | Hussein Kesvani

LLike many people who have been laid off and stuck at home during Covid lockdowns, I spent an unfathomable amount of time learning an obscure skill that would in no way strengthen my resume. Bookbinding was a hobby that many of my friends and family were surprised I took up: I wasn’t particularly good with my hands and, up until then, my life had largely revolved around technology and the Internet.

I spent hours learning complex sewing techniques, the chemistry of adhesives, and determining by touch where the paper was made. All of my learning took place on a subreddit – a sort of message board or forum on the Reddit site – called r/binding, where a small online community of bookbinders offered tips and advice on the projects I was working on, completely free. In my mind, it was as good as an expensive art school, providing a supportive and enthusiastic community that allowed me to learn this skill at my own pace – and without going broke in the process.

Places like r/bookbinding are increasingly rare in the age of platform-based social media driven by clickbait, algorithmic recommendations, and invasive ads designed to keep us scrolling forever. The Internet was once full of specialized forums populated by anonymous users supporting a niche community, but most have been shut down or are rarely used. It is on Reddit, which began in 2005 as a link-sharing message board, that the last vestiges of the forum culture of the old Internet remain. But as it prepares to make its stock market debut this week, opening itself up to corporate investment and venture capital, those communities risk disappearing altogether.

Reddit currently has over 70 million daily users who post to tens of thousands of subreddits, organized by topics of interest. Although some of these forums are quite common and generic – r/politics for discussing current events, for example – what most users like is the site’s appeal to niche and irreverent interests, even weird. Communities such as r/muglifewhere members post their favorite mugs, r/RateThisMeadowa set of campaign settings from around the world, or r/Sweetjeanscontaining absurd and disturbing images of denim, are just a few examples of what makes the site unique.

Reddit is one of the last places on the internet where you can discover something new, no strings attached.

That’s not to say Reddit was ever an idyllic place, of course. The platform hosted subreddits containing racism, misogyny and other forms of hate speech. It also uses the efforts of unpaid volunteers, who have helped build its culture and keep the site running — a friction exposed last year, when hundreds of moderators close their subreddits to protest Reddit’s decision to charge for access to its back-end code.

The relationship between Reddit as a company, and the users and moderators who enable the platform to function, is the source of tension at the heart of the impending initial public offering (IPO). The company will be under much more pressure to prove its commercial value, particularly at a time of high interest rates and a looming global recession, trust in the tech industry is declining. This means Reddit will likely come up with a strategy to monetize its members. For social media platforms like Meta and X, this meant flooding their platforms with advertising, often to the detriment of the user experience. But for Reddit, which relies on the goodwill of users and moderators deeply invested in their own interests and obsessions, such a strategy will be less straightforward.

Any move to further commercialize the platform will require deciding which subreddits – essentially which communities – are “profitable” and which are not. While looking to invest, Reddit will also have to contend with users who decide that their work maintaining subreddits requires financial compensation. Meanwhile, investors in Reddit may believe that any cash infusion would require shutting down or severely restricting parts of the Reddit ecosystem – particularly those considered NSFW (not safe for work) – likely punishing communities already highly marginalized such as trans people. or sex workers.

The impending IPO has much broader implications for the future of the Internet itself. As the Internet becomes more and more compartmentalized, driven by large technology companies constantly seeking scale, it has also become more difficult to use. The dominance of advertiser-driven algorithmic feeds means that even trying to track down old friends on Facebook is a near-impossible task, while avoiding torrents of hate speech users amplified by paid blue checkmarks on Elon Musk’s X.

Even searching for basic information, from recipes for weekday dinners to local traffic reports on platforms like Google, is akin to a Sisyphean task, where users are expected to dig through mountains of paid advertisements to find the answer. Of course, all of these problems will get worse as tech companies, including Reddit, adopt and promote AI tools in the coming years – filling platforms with useless, non-human-generated content, no audience nor clear objective, other than to seek clicks and views. .

It’s no wonder that so many analysts of online culture, like writer Kyle Chayka, have pointed out that as money invests more and more into consumer technology, the Internet has become less useful for those who use it – and, more importantly, no one has fun with that anymore. While Reddit’s IPO may make business sense, it likely marks the final moments of an Internet created by humans with strange and endearing interests, looking for connection and community; one in which people would be willing to teach a stranger a rare and obscure skill for free.

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