July 9, 2015

#31 BONUS: The Reddit Implosion Explainer

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

We meant to take a week off, but we just couldn't help ourselves. Our entire episode this week is a Yes Yes No about the recent (and massive) dustup on Reddit. 

The Facts
Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. Our ad music is by Build Buildings. 

Further Reading
After we recorded this, 

Victoria popped up on Reddit to thank everyone for supporting her


From Gimlet, this is Reply All, a show about the Internet. I'm PJ Vogt. We were trying to take a vacation this week and not put out an episode and work on other stuff but apparently that is not what happened. We had a conversation with our boss Alex Blumberg about Reddit and the crazy implosion moment that they had this week. And it turned out really interesting and at the same time a lot of people have been asking us to explain what has been going on with Reddit and so we figured it would make more sense to actually put this out this week while the story is happening and people have questions about it. So here you go. It's a bonus.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Welcome once again to Yes Yes No. A segment on our show where we make fun of our boss for not knowing about all of the boring arcane internet crap that we know about.

ALEX BLUMBERG: The description keeps getting more and more concise. It's amazing. Yes, so I'm here again because the internet continues to confuse me. This is not something that I have a specific tweet for or I don't have like, this is not something that I've come across, it's come at me in many many ways. Something happened on Reddit.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Funny you should mention that.

ALEX BLUMBERG: PJ Vogt do you know what happened with Reddit this week?

PJ: Oh boy, do I. So, Alex Goldman, do you know what happened with Reddit this week?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes I do. Alex Blumberg, do you know what happened with Reddit this week?

ALEX BLUMBERG: No, I don't. I'm not entirely sure, if you want to get right down to it, what Reddit is.

PJ VOGT: Wait really? Wait, what do you think Reddit is?

ALEX BLUMBERG: i know it's a message board or something, right?

PJ VOGT: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: You're not wrong. But the deal with Reddit is, imagine it like a giant marketplace with booths that cover different topics and they're called subreddits. So there's Reddit as a website but then there's a subreddit about video games, there's a subreddit about music, there's a subreddit about everything. There's a Gimlet subreddit which is just about Gimlet Media.


PJ VOGT: But then there's also like-

ALEX BLUMBERG: Did we set that up?

ALEX GOLDMAN: No. A fan set it up.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And the way that it works is, the company has a moderation team of like a surprisingly small amount of people, like the entire company has less than a hundred employees and then each person who sets up a subreddit and it's free to do and you can make as many as you want, they are the moderators of their own subreddit and since there's no one moderating what subreddits are created there are subreddits that are incredibly racist, there are subreddits devoted to upskirt shots of women in public there is a very popular one until very recently called Fat People Hate.


PJ VOGT: So then the other thing that makes this really fascinating is that like Reddit is a really valuable media company essentially, you know Condé Nast owned them.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Condé Nast owns Reddit?

PJ: Yes. and the reason that they are valuable is that its such a huge community and so if you're someone who's job it is to write about stuff on the internet like Gawker or Buzzfeed a lot of how they sift stories is just by trying to find something that's becoming popular on Reddit before their competitors and if their stories get linked to by Reddit that's a huge, they are a sort of tastemaker in this insane way, but it's a tastemaker run by volunteers and so when the company wants to like tell people to shut down a nasty subreddit or whatever they risk alienating the volunteers who run the site and if they piss those people off they have nothing. So Reddit is sort of powerless and powerful at the same time. A lot of times when you hear is a story about an out of control mob on the internet, that mob came from Reddit.

ALEX BLUMBERG: What's the worst mob on the internet Reddit story?

PJ: That’s tough.

ALEX GOLDMAN: That is tough. They ID'ed the wrong person in the Boston bombing.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh that was them?

ALEX GOLDMAN: A guy who had committed suicide.

PJ: It’s not a place where everybody behaves badly but some of the worst internet behavior happens there also naked celebrity pictures that were stolen I think last summer.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah that huge hack of nude celeb photos.

PJ: the prime distribution point was Reddit and Reddit was in this place where they were like, eventually they caved but at first they were like we don't censor our users, there's a very strong libertarian streak.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Which means that they by and large try not to censor or remove any content unless it breaks the law.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay so that's plenty of Reddit background but something new is happening.

PJ: So the new thing that happened is there's a woman who works at Reddit who I keep calling Victoria Jackson, who's name is-

ALEX GOLDMAN: Victoria Taylor.

PJ: Victoria Taylor. And her job is to coordinate AMAs which are like often times celebrities but it doesn't have to be, there are interviews on Reddit. You go on and anybody can ask you a question and then the group of people who are there wil vote on the questions you answer, its a really interesting format

ALEX BLUMBERG: You guys did an AMA right?


PJ: We did an AMA.

ALEX BLUMBERG: How was that? Were people mean to you?

ALEX GOLDMAN: No. I did one when I was working for On the Media and the first like five questions were about whether I like anal sex. And one of them was like if you could have a hundred million dollars in grant funding for On the Media or a hundred million anal sexes which would you choose? It was something to that effect. I think my response was, why would I have to choose between those two things? Why not have both. And that actually really calmed people down.

PJ: Yeah, it's like an unruly class.

ALEX BLUMBERG: A hundred million anal sexes.

PJ: So the woman whose job it was to like wrangle celebrities to do the AMAs or even like us. She was one of the few people at Reddit who seemed able to talk from the companies perspective to the users of the site. They really loved her.


PJ: And she left the company last week and the company would not say why but it caused a crazy revolt and the people who run the big attention getting subreddits shut them all down.


PJ: They essentially like blacked out the site.

ALEX BLUMBERG: In protest?

PJ: In protest.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So it greatly reduced the information that they had and everything that was on the front page was a link about how upset everyone was about Reddit. Like it really was pretty crazy.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Why did they fire her? Does anybody know?

ALEX GOLDMAN: There are a couple theories, I mean.

ALEX BLUMBERG: do we know if she was fired or she just left?

ALEX GOLDMAN: She was fired. They've never denied that. She has said, I’m dazed by this whole thing, I don't know what happened.


PJ: To get back to the question, there's stories about why she got fired, they all cast her as the good person standing up to a cynical company and they are very simple and so I don't totally trust them. For the people who use the site it's this place and they imagine the people who make money off the site as being evil but its probably like any small company and it's probably somebody being let go is personal and weird and complicated and it's not the type of thing where you can go out in front of a mob of a hundred million people and talk through or that you should but they're in this position where their users want a kind of intimacy that they can't give them.

ALEX BLUMBERG: And I guess that there's still a crux of a question in there. Which was sort of like what this woman Victoria Taylor, what did she do that inspired such devotion. She was a booker, she booked interviews for Reddit. not that booking is bad. Booking is a really important job and it's like I understand why, but it just seems like a strange, like what inspired such a connection.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I think that for in a lot of cases, the only time that Reddit's paid employees interacted with users on Reddit was to admonish them for bad behavior and Victoria's interaction was more like, I’m going to help you coordinate this thing, I'm going to help you get his person to your subreddit, to make your subreddit more popular. I am going to listen to your complaints about this and respond to them in this subreddit. You know it's like, I feel like a lot of times for Redditors, trying to contact someone who actually worked at the company was like being put in one of those automated telephone systems where you couldn't reach anyone and she was the operator at the end of the line.

PJ: And then there's one other part of the story which is that it's not just about this hero Victoria who got fired, there's also a villain and the villain is the relatively new CEO of Reddit, a woman named Ellen Pao.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, now her I know.

PJ: Really?

ALEX BLUMBERG: Because of the Kleiner Perkins lawsuit. They're a big VC firm out in Silicon Valley and they were just recently, and Ellen Pao sued them for sexual discrimination.

PJ: Right.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Our worlds collide!

PJ: Finally!

ALEX BLUMBERG: My world which wasn't my world like a year ago. But now it is my world.

PJ: So Redditors are really angry at her, a lot of them are angry at her in ways that are sexist or racist and she is doing her best to try to talk to them, my favorite thing was this post that she made, where she came out and she used all this corporate language, we're trying to address with solutions and forward thinking and action planned feedback and I was, I was so on her side, I was like, she's trying to make it better you guys, you can't fix something very night, like I was so rapturously reading this press release and then all these people said, you should have said this five years ago and you haven't done anything.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Wow you're a real rube, man.

PJ: I'm a stooge, man.

ALEX BLUMBERG: A company man.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I read that and immediately I was like, this is such a non response. This is terrible.

ALEX BLUMBERG: You're still punk Goldman. Pop punk.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Anyway this also happens to dovetail with another thing that happened at Reddit about a month ago which is that they decided to ban a bunch of subreddits including Fat People Hate. For encouraging or allowing harassment there's no appeal process, there was no warning or explanation, they were just gone. And the anti-censorship crowd at Reddit found this very offensive so a website has popped up called that's called voat, v-o-a-t, not v-o-g-t, dot com and it's basically like a Reddit clone, and they have sort of set themselves up in opposition to Reddit saying, hey guys we offer the same services, we have none of the censorship and people are abandoning Reddit in droves?

PJ: are they really?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes. the user signups for voat.com they’re like out of control.

PJ: Yeah but nobody really thinks that Reddit's going to-

ALEX GOLDMAN: What’s the thing, google trends? So Reddit alternatives as a search term, if you look at...

PJ: It's a hockey stick.

ALEX GOLDMAN: It is a total hockey stick. In 2012 and 2013 it is like a slow rumble on this chart and then as of this year the popularity of the search term is unbelievably huge

PJ: Yeah but what is it, I mean is it like going from two to a hundred, is it going from like one to...

ALEX GOLDMAN: Let's just compare it to the word soup.

PJ: What is that going to...

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay, it's much higher.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Soup is higher?


ALEX BLUMBERG: Well it's not that higher, that much higher. It's quite seasonal.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah its totally seasonal.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Is that just flu season

ALEX GOLDMAN: No, no one wants soup in the summer.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Right, right, right.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Everybody wants it from October to January.

ALEX BLUMBERG: I think it’s because they are all getting sick in October.

PJ: Do, this isn't going to tell us anything either but do Reddit alternatives versus podcasts.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Take that Reddit alternatives!

ALEX GOLDMAN: Reddit alternatives measures a little higher than it did against soup.

PJ: But it's basically a flat zero.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Wait do podcasts versus soup. This is fun.



PJ: Who's winning?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Soup is winning but podcasts are a much bigger contender than I expected them to be.

PJ: We're like approaching soup in summer?

ALEX BLUMBERG: Podcasts, almost as popular as soup in summer!

PJ: That's a good motto for Gimlet. I don't know if this is a Yes Yes No anymore or what. But this is why I find all of this stuff really interesting, it's cause like if you're Reddit or any site like it, link sharing sites that drive a ton of traffic but don't actually make that much money relative to how influential they are, you're always going to have this problem and it's not really solvable, you don't make enough money to hire a huge amount of employees to keep all of these masses of people happy. But you need masses of people for your site to work and every time you piss off these people who are doing a lot of free work for you, they'll leave but like ultimately I don't know what is going to happen, usually when everyone gets mad at a tech company I roll my eyes because tech companies don't care, and they always survive, you know people can get mad at Facebook and they'll be here tomorrow. I don't know what will happen with Reddit.


PJ: I think it will be here tomorrow but I think this matters and I don't think they know how to solve this. I mean, when it first happened Alexis Ohanian, the founder, the guy who should most know what to do, jumped on a thread of angry moderators and they were like, what are you going to do? What are you going to do? And he said, I don't know, popcorn sounds pretty good right now. Like this is internet drama I'm going to eat some popcorn, like I don't think they have a master plan.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Right. So my main takeaway is that podcasts are almost as popular as soup in the summer.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So are we at Yes Yes Yes?

ALEX BLUMBERG: We are definitely at Yes Yes Yes. That's interesting and it's a strangely poignant Yes Yes Yes.

PJ: Okay that is our bonus episode. We are cooking up some new stuff that we are very excited to share with you we'll be back next week with a full new episode, we'll see you then.

PJ: Oh actually this is PJ again chiming in with a correction for this episode. We said that Reddit is owned by Condé Nast. Condé Nast used to own Reddit. Now Reddit's largest shareholder is Condé Nast's parent company: Advance Publications. We are still sure though that eating soup in summer, unless it's gazpacho, is super weird. Okay, see you next week for real.