The Surprising Demise of Reddit

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Well, it seems Ellen Pao managed to step in yet another bucket of syrup.

This is going to require a bit of back-story……….

Some people on the Internet really go for quantity. On their Twitter account, they follow hundreds of people. On Facebook, they connect with thousands of “friends.” And in their browser, they visit dozens of web sites each day.

I tend to be a minimalist. I have precisely 100 friends on Facebook. If I decide I really want someone to be a friend, well, someone else is going to get the boot. On Twitter, even though I have over 13,000 followers, I follow only 8. And as for web sites, there are only three sites I visit repeatedly each day: Slope of Hope, ZeroHedge, and Reddit.

In case you’ve been hiding in a cave somewhere, Reddit is one of the most frequently-visited sites on the web, and it was recently valued at half a billion dollars. It consists of myriad “subreddits” which focus on particular topics of interest, each of which is managed by unpaid (and evidently very dedicated) moderators. Readers can upvote and downvote tidbits of the web, bringing to the front page of reddit itself, or any particular subreddit, the most interesting articles and curiosities.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not entertained and better-informed thanks to reddit and the millions of people who make it possible. Similar to Wikipedia, it’s one of those delightful free gems on the web which isn’t slathered with advertising and is made possible mostly by the heart and hard work of its community. Slope of Hope, in a miniscule way, is very much like that.

None of this would be especially interesting were it not for the shitstorm taking place at this very moment in the usually placid world of Reddit. To wit:

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As you’ve gathered from the above, a woman named Victoria Taylor was fired for reasons that have not been explained, and Redditors are absolutely freaking out about it.

Victoria, pictured here, was the director of communications for the past couple of years. It strikes me as odd that the firing of one individual would cause such a revolt, but I don’t consider myself a “deep” Redditor at all. I have a parasitic relationship with the site, similar to “lurkers” on any site (including Slope). I contribute nothing to it. I don’t even upvote/downvote stuff. I just go there to read. So I don’t pretend to “get” the subculture there at all.

But for some of the folks there, I’m sure this weekend is one they’ll remember on their deathbed. The Reddit community has never been particularly keen on the company’s Interim (and everyone emphasizes Interim) CEO, Ellen Pao, about whom I wrote a number of articles here on Slope regarding her widely-publicized sex discrimination lawsuit. In fact, they really, really, really hate her.

It would be sort of like if every Sloper really couldn’t stand me, but they tolerated me only because my friend Dutch did such a great job – – – and then I fired Dutch. That’s sort of what’s going on.

Now keep in mind Reddit isn’t some weird, edgy, nobody-ever-heard-of-it site like Slope. It’s a big, big site (which is why the likes of Time magazine are writing about what’s going on right now). The Reddit community is upvoting anything they can that has to do with (a) other companies that pissed off their customer base and lived to regret it (b) getting rid of Pao (c) general castigation of Pao.

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Want to know the real shame of this? A missed opportunity. And as a former Internet entrepreneur myself, I can’t help but shake my head at this one……….

About a year ago, a couple of guys put together a site that does exactly the same thing as Reddit called Voat. The thing with communities is – – – once a community has a home, it stays there. Reddit is ranked as the 32nd most popular web site in the world. Want to know Voat’s rank? 20,100.

So there’s no way Voat would have ever amounted to anything, because there’s no reason for anyone to leave reddit and go to Voat…………until this weekend. Suddenly everyone agitated to basically jump ship and make Voat the new Reddit. And while it’s virtually out of the question that this would have happened, Voat had an amazing opportunity to capture a meaningful chunk of those users. Even if it was only 5%, that would have make Voat a real business.

But what folks are getting instead when they try to go to Voat is this:

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Thus, one of the top links on Reddit is this:

Meanwhile, at Voat’s headquarters…

The sad thing for Voat’s founders is that once they’ve finally got their infrastructure act together and can actually handle the traffic coming their way, this whole Reddit thing will have blown over. So they’ll have invested in a bunch of equipment and bandwidth, only to see themselves vault from 20,100th place to 19,900th. It’s a damned shame, and frankly, they’ve blown the opportunity of a lifetime.

The most amusing subreddit of all right now is PaoYongYang. (Someone even made a painstaking claymation of Ellen Pao singing “Why Don’t You Go Over to Voat?”) Here’s what it looks like; you, uhhh, can kind of get the idea:

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There’s even a petition going around to dump Ellen Pao from Reddit which has garnered 100,000 signatures as of this writing. (“A vast majority of the Reddit community believes that Pao, “a manipulative individual who will sue her way to the top”, has overstepped her boundaries and fears that she will run Reddit into the ground”) Again, the community really, really hates her. Partly because of her sketchy husband. Partly because of the Kleiner lawsuit. But mostly because of the perception of how she treats the community.

And that, frankly, is the principal point of this post (I’m not looking for excuses to put up pictures of Pao’s peculiar countenance). Community matters. Indeed, in this hyper-interconnected world in which we live, it matters more than ever. If you’re involved in any kind of Internet business, the relationship not only with your users but between your users is the glue that holds your enterprise together.

The thing is, humans are a tribal lot, and they will gladly band together and turn against the people or institutions they feel have wronged them. On this day (I’m writing this on July 4), look no further than these lines from a document you may have heard about:

….all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Personally, I found Ms. Pao singularly unlikeable, based on everything I’ve read, and just as I hope our friends in Greece throw off the EU shackles with a resounding “Oxi!” vote on Sunday, I hope the Redditors succeed in their quest to kick Pao to the curb and send her back to Buddy Fletcher, where husband and wife can romantically contemplate whom they’d like to sue next.

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