Once strictly a haven for geeks and IT power users, lately Reddit has been developing a wider public audience. Since its founding in 2005, Reddit has seen steady growth, most notably in 2010 when a rival news aggregation site, Digg.com underwent a revision that eliminated the neutrality of post visibility and allowed power-users to “manipulate the article recommendation features to only support one another's postings, flooding the site with articles only from these users and making it impossible to have genuine content from non-power users appear on the front page.” (Wikipedia)
Reddit’s core concept is a simple one. Users submit content, either links to webpages or text posts, and are able to vote on whether or not the content is worth seeing. Posts with lots of upvotes get spotlighted on the front page of the site and posts that get downvotes are sent to the bottom. In addition to this, all posts feature a comment section in which individual comments can be up or downvoted. This simple, democratic system works to attempt to bring the best content into prominence on the site. When you pull up Reddit’s homepage you are presented with the most popular submissions across the site’s various subreddits. Subreddits or “subs” are an organizational construct of the site in which posts can be separated into different areas of the website based on their subject matter. Many of the default front-page subs are focused on humor, which is part of the reason Reddit has gained popularity with the less tech-oriented crowd; however, humor is not the only thing Reddit has to offer.
In addition to the funny sections of Reddit, many subreddits have developed into incredible learning resources. In my opinion, it’s the small focused communities that make Reddit great. There are currently over 600,000 subreddits, so whatever it is, there’s more than likely to be a subreddit for it (see RedditList). These subs are home to stockpiles of user-generated information. Whether it’s group discussion of a primetime TV show like Mad Men or Breaking Bad, swapping song playlists, or even exchanging weight loss tips; if you can talk about it, someone is talking about it on Reddit. The most popular subs have pretty broad scopes (r/pics for example) but lots of quality content is hidden within the more specialized subreddits. I was compelled to write this blog post was because of the r/audioengineering subreddit. I have strong backgrounds in both music and tech and within the past several years have become very interested in learning the art of audio recording and production. A very nuanced art, it’s pretty difficult to learn on your own, but the audioengineering sub has provided a wealth of information. I’ve used it for everything from asking for gear recommendations, soliciting feedback on my projects, and learning simple tricks from professionals who have been at it for much longer than I. I discovered r/audioengineering around a year ago and have noticed a definitive uptick in my production skill and even the rate at which I am improving.
My example was audio production but there are hundreds of other hobbies, skills, and trades you can learn from the compilations of information that make up subreddits. As such, Reddit is creative in two major ways. Firstly, in the innovation of the voting system and the sorting algorithm that curates the Reddit homepage and the front pages of all of the subreddits. This system is brilliant and keeps Reddit fresh, relevant and always interesting. Users are able to curate their homepage to include content from specific subreddits that interest them, giving them a manageable digest intriguing content. Secondly, in the collaboration from Reddit’s users, providing valuable content and a sense of community to the site and all of its various sections.
This second aspect ties into the Uzzi reading about collaborative Q. It seems to me that the best subreddits have a medium Q. In large and broad subs like r/funny, a default subreddit with 8,340,772 subscribers, Q is about as low as possible. Posters don't know each other by username and although there is a high level of interaction, the connections between users aren't that strong. In smaller communities like r/audioengineering as I mentioned earlier or other smaller interest groups like r/tucson, the official subreddit for Tucson, AZ which has only 5,689 subscribers, the smaller community allows people to more intimately connect with those who may post and comment often. Although this is probably on a different scale and scope than Uzzi had in mind, I think it still loosely applies. Perhaps Reddit isn't a platform for the realization or fruition of eminent creativity but it certainly serves as a collaborative space where people can easily exchange knowledge, develop ideas and learn essentially whatever they want.