Reddit’s push to host users’ content

June 2nd, 2016 by Mark Daly in Industry News No Comments »

Reddit plans to host more of the content its users discuss, including images and video, its chief executive Steve Huffman has revealed to BBC News.

The forum has traditionally built its discussions around posts to external links, which the community then votes up or down.

“Every time we send a user away there’s a chance we won’t get them back,” Mr Huffman explained.

The shift will align it with sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

“We have a lot of communities on Reddit that produce original content. Basically prioritising the content producers will be a direction of ours for the next little while.

“It just makes the process so much more streamlined,” says Huffman. The move is also seen as part of a bid to increase the site’s revenue.

Privately-owned Reddit has more than 200 million monthly users and the site has a huge influence on global online discussion.

‘Fake it to make it’

In the early days, it was lack of users that was the problem.

Huffman, who co-founded the company in the summer of 2005 at the University of Virginia (and retains the air of a clean-cut freshman), admits to dirty tricks to build the site’s reputation at the outset.

“Alexis my cofounder and I, we faked all of our users. We [found] content elsewhere on the internet, submitting it to Reddit as a unique username. It’s like a ‘fake it till you make it’ sort of thing. You don’t want a community website to look like a ghost town.”

But two months into the project things changed. Huffman – aka Spez on Reddit – took a break one day and neglected to falsify any user engagement. When he went to check Reddit’s front page in trepidation, he was shocked. Genuine content had appeared.

“That was the moment in my mind when it switched from ‘we’re just playing around’ to ‘hey, there’s an actual real community here’ and the motivation became: ‘let’s preserve this thing’. That was a special day, I don’t think I will forget that one.”

Selling out?

The potential commercial value of Reddit was soon apparent and in late 2006 it was bought by Conde Nast publishers.

“We were dysfunctional internally, we didn’t know what we were building, so it didn’t feel like we were cheating ourselves out of a plan or some big success or anything. We were already getting more than we had ever imagined.”

Reddit's push to host users' content ilicomm Technology Solutions
Image caption BBC News caught up with Steve Huffman at The Next Web conference in Amsterdam

Huffman stayed on at Reddit for three years, but then left to pursue other projects.

After changes to Conde Nast’s company structure, Reddit became independent again in 2012. Huffman returned as chief executive last year after the short-lived tenure of Ellen Pao and protests over the dismissal of Victoria Taylor, a popular talent manager respected by moderators.

Ask Me Anything

At an AMA [Ask Me Anything] session to mark his return, the community’s concerns were laid bare to Huffman.

One upvoted issue was the perceived pressure to “monetise” the website.

There has been speculation that Victoria Taylor was dismissed for resisting pressures from management to do this.

Reddit's push to host users' content ilicomm Technology Solutions
Image copyright OTHER
Image caption Steve Huffman held an AMA session to mark his return as Reddit boss

“Monetisation is of course something we think about a lot,” says Huffman.

This is one reason why he now wants to host images and video on the site, he explains, to increase traffic and therefore advert impressions.

Asked if this will make Reddit more like Facebook, he says: “There’s similarities there, but I think Facebook’s strategy is a little bit more aggressive in that they seem to want to replace the rest of the internet.

“The work is making our ad products better, getting better tools for advertisers so they can find the users they’re looking for.”

Money maker?

But connecting advertisers and users is a particular challenge for Reddit, according to one digital analyst.

“If you look at Reddit’s reported revenue it’s pitifully small compared to its traction, its audience and time they spend on it,” says Nick Thomas of Ovum.

“Its fundamental problem is that making money is not in its DNA and runs counter to the user experience.

“When Steve Huffman said at The Next Web conference, ‘We know your dark secrets, we know everything,’ he articulated one of the biggest fears for Reddit users. They don’t want their activity on Reddit to come bouncing back as a series of targeted adverts.”

Concerns about privacy, transparency and advertising have been raised on Reddit by users.

The company launched its first official mobile app with functionality for adverts earlier this year.

Reddit's push to host users' content ilicomm Technology Solutions
Image copyright REDDIT
Image caption Reddit finally launched its own app developed in-house this year

It has also launched experimental new products, like Upvoted, a news outlet with original content inspired by Reddit discussions – so often used as a story source by other media outlets. Up-voted also contains paid-for branded content, a model used by Buzzfeed.

Despite this move, Huffman maintains Reddit’s future does not lie in generating original content. “Something I say over and over internally is we’re not a media company.”

Anti-evil team

The other main challenge Huffman has set himself is to regulate bullying on the site, without shutting down free speech.

“We’ve created a trust and safety team and hired new community managers,” he says.

“We’ve created an anti-evil engineering team that focuses on finding the people undermining Reddit.”

There are about five people in it, according to Huffman, looking at spam, account takeovers and harassment. “Those sorts of things we want to eliminate,” says Huffman, who has pledged to get rid of illegal activity and incitement to violence on the “anything goes” website.

As it prepares to host images and video, this will be another challenge, as it will need to moderate the wild and varied pixellated content its community is sure to upload.

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