Friday, September 24th, 2010

The Rise of Reddit: 4chan and Digg Get the Credit While Reddit Booms

COLBERTIANOf the three main drivers of internet culture-blogs, social networking sites and forums-most people in the media and in the general Internet-using public only understand two. Blogs work in a very obvious way: they're like magazines or newspapers, but light. Information spreads from blog to blog up and down the food chain, but it's pretty traceable. Social networks work in a different but equally obvious way: they're like real-world word of mouth, but easier to track, though still much tougher to control or predict than blogs.

But forums can be inscrutable to outsiders. And they get far less attention than the other two culture-drivers. "Everyone" uses Facebook and Twitter, and everyone "gets" Gawker and the Huffington Post, but fewer understand what's going on at Fark, Digg, 4chan, Something Awful and Reddit.

So far, Digg and 4chan have gotten most of the attention. It's vaguely understood that Digg is that massive site you try to get your blog posts submitted to, and every commercial blog I've ever worked for dedicated some time to trading votes in an effort to gently game the system. (I also have friends who arrange voting rings for money, against the site's rules.)

And 4chan is that deep dark site that Makes Things Happen. They invaded an old man's birthday party! They hunted down that lady who dropped a cat into a bin! Of course, no one "real" spends any time in the "asshole of the internet" (an accidentally apt meta-reference to Heart of Darkness), and the site doesn't keep regular archives and no one has usernames. So it's hard to tell just how many of 4chan's exploits are truly 4chan's.

And I say plenty of them aren't. Likewise, plenty of Digg's traffic-sending power is overblown-especially now that traffic was down at Digg after their redesign disaster.

Both of these sites are being replaced by Reddit, a four-year-old news forum with far more educated, better-behaved users than either, but with a culture that somehow rides the middle between Digg's slavery to the mainstream tastes of America's teen males and 4chan's obsession with inscrutable in-jokes and anti-humor.

Reddit got almost 300 million pageviews in July, compared to the 200 million Digg views in July that Digg founder Kevin Rose reported on his blog. So says an infographic posted on Reddit by Chris Slowe, the site's lead developer, who also asks why the media continually call Reddit "tiny" and "dwarfed" by Digg. What's more, traffic at Reddit, according to their Google Analytics, is up 24% in the last two months.

Reddit's staff of four (Digg has more than 60) are radically transparent in the actually refreshing sense. In July, they asked why web analytics sites like Quantcast, Alexa, Compete and Nielsen all underreport Reddit's traffic (probably causing the media's low estimates). They also explained that Condé Nast doesn't give them much of a budget because they haven't sold enough ads on their massive inventory. (They've since launched a premium tier with added features.) They even publicly argue against CN's managerial decisions and ask their users to petition the parent company.

Reddit is still smaller than 4chan, which passed 300 million pageviews back in February, 2009. But because it's not an intentionally churning forum of anonymous posters, it's much more valuable, view for view. While 4chan is a great place to get a meme started, and the fog of war makes for a beautifully mysterious beginning to a viral epidemic, Reddit is the place to actually get shit done.

The raid of WWII veteran William Lashua's birthday party started on 4chan, but the project only evolved when Lashua's grandson appealed to his internet fans on Reddit, asking them to avoid forming too much of a mob. Such a plea would have been ignored on 4chan, where no one can trust anyone's identity, and the thread would have been deleted in under an hour, as all threads are on that site. Thus Reddit serves as the gatekeeper between 4chan and the internet at large.

But they can also start their own real-world memes. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are holding a rally on the National Mall on October 30, entirely because Reddit asked them to.

At 5 A.M. on August 31, Reddit user mrsammercer posted his "vision": Stephen Colbert should hold a rally to satirize Glenn Beck's August 28 "Restoring Honor" rally. (He admitted a couple of other users had the same idea.) The post caught on, earning over 11,200 upvotes (and 6500 downvotes). Colbert had praised Reddit on the air in July, and many Redditors suspect he's a regular.

While New York says that Colbert and Stewart had discussed a satirical rally while Beck's was still being planned, they didn't announce until the 16th, after Reddit spent two weeks petitioning them online-and raising more than $240,000 for Colbert's favorite charity, DonorsChoose.

We'll see if the rally is successful, or if it fizzles into this year's Snakes on a Plane. But just by getting it rolling, Reddit has already dwarfed the real-world cultural accomplishments of Digg and 4chan and proven that it can push more culture through the internet than its competitors. This is the web's real center, whether anyone recognizes it or not.

Nick Douglas is a senior editor at Urlesque. He would like to show you his screenplay.

49 Comments / Post A Comment

keisertroll (#1,117)

As long as it's no S@#! My Dad Says, the rally will be a success.

Nick Douglas (#7,095)

Has anyone yet analyzed how SMDS went from internet's-favorite to universally-mocked before the pilot even aired?

I still like to believe that in the right hands, that could have been a funny one-camera show.

La Cieca (#1,110)

I agree with you that the fewer cameras used on this show, the better.

Screen Name (#2,416)

Because when a comedy writer who is trying to make money by getting a book deal and selling a sitcom idea gets a book deal and sells a sitcom idea it's considered too braggy for the Internet?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

William Shatner. Analysis complete.

deepomega (#1,720)

Cannot stand Reddit or Digg or Fark or BoingBoing or any of those things. Purely democratic voting is the same as not having an editor. I let my friends/TheAwl do the hard work of sifting through hundreds of shit links to bring me the shining kernels that lie waiting within.

Bryan Keller (#3,804)

Corn. Kernels of corn in human feces.

deepomega (#1,720)

While that wasn't the metaphor I was trying to draw, I stand by it. Reading reddit is like sifting through human shit looking for corn kernels. Degrading, ultimately a waste of time, likely to give me e. coli.

Ronit (#1,557)

Fark doesn't do voting. Fark is run by editors who select articles based on humor value.

@Ronit humor value and number of headline-article factual inconsistencies/spelling errors

quippd (#6,819)

What would you think about collaborative editing, like Wikipedia? That's one of the big ideas behind quippd, which is attempting to fix some of the problems inherent in that "democratic" voting model.

Ryan Sholin (#7,598)

Is it wrong that I'm unabashedly confused by the straightforward tone of this, dare I say the word, "article" about Reddit? We're reading The Awl, for goodness sake, we know what Reddit is. Or perhaps the straightforwardness -IS- the twisted point of view here? Look, this is no Bolognese recipe, that's all I'm saying.

bb (#295)

I don't really know anything about Reddit.

GiovanniGF (#224)

Me neither – I always hear Reddit and Digg mentioned, but like the rest of the "Internet-using public" mentioned in the first paragraph I never bothered to look into it.

@Ryan: Well, it's no this post.

NickDouglas (#2,186)

Funny story: Denton specifically asked me to write that piece. Still better than the "watch this soldier kill a puppy" post that was entirely my doing.

Whitney (#7,599)

Used to love reddit until realizing the sexism and racism was way out of control, not to mention the complete dismissal of the actual work that journalists do. Also realized that some people really do get all their info from blogs and it was disturbing.

NickDouglas (#2,186)

Yeah, there's loads more to be written about this site's good and bad sides. But not much is yet, which is my point.

quippd (#6,819)

You may want to check out quippd, which is attempting to fix the problems with reddit (slowly).

Miles Klee (#3,657)

hipinion is where i go when the awl is not in-jokey enough

ragold (#2,746)

The key to understanding Reddit is the subReddit, a topical forum page anyone can create and subscribe to. Digg has set topic pages (or it did, I have no idea what it's looked like in the last six months) 4-chan has none. This allows for some often-fascinating pages like IAMA (I am a x, Ask Me Anything), Wikipedia (just bizarre or interesting Wikipedia entries), and TwoXChromosomes (women's issues).

ragold (#2,746)

Correction: 4-chan does have topics but they are set and mostly about anime, scat porn, etc.

NickDouglas (#2,186)

There is no scat porn subreddit and damn you for getting my hopes up.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

also, here's a funny thing about the something awful forum– a while back someone there started copy-pasting posts from my tumblr, hate the future, and even titled the thread "hate the future." s/he (but probably he, let's be honest) was sort of doing my best-of hits, and i didn't much mind because the board was eating it up and driving a lot of traffic.

but then a user called out the original poster for, basically, plagiarism, and it devolved into a snit about originality or whatever, ending with this mystery first poster claiming that although he did not author some of the posts, he contributed to my site. maybe he sent me a picture to use, it's totally possible, but this statement was undoubtedly false and misleading. then he said something about how the original tumblr wasn't really funny, anyway.

i still didn't much care (i was mostly fascinated and wondered if they knew that i was watching this conversation) and then the strangest thing of all happened– around when the board turned on this guy for all his shitty netiquette, they started making their own posts in the mold of my tumblr, just taking the concept and running with it, which is what, it turns out, forums are best at. just a blowing out of a set of ideas.

a really "holy shit" moment, and i have no idea what to make of it.

deepomega (#1,720)

It's humbling to realize that any flavor/character/whatever you think you might have can easily be replicated by a large enough forum.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Ha, your seed-posts created their own little ecosystem.

Awesome (and sad and awesome). I think that's what I like most about forums, the running with ideas. It happens here sometimes (like the Old Bands, for a recent example), but on forums they can seemingly go on forever. [/last]

migraineheadache (#1,866)

I like when micro-movements happen – I love that "Todd Edwards Breakdowns" exists –

Matt (#26)

Sp. for all: I think you meant "rendit."

6h057 (#1,914)

I voted this up in rendit

Bryan Keller (#3,804)

I prefer fuddit.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I prefer fuggetaboutit.

cherrispryte (#444)

"fewer understand what's going on at Fark" …. I think that's for the best, though.

I was hoping someone would bring that up. Never have I been more disappointed in a site's fall. [mostly because since then I haven't cared about a site--except for the Awl, which I love fully]

NickDouglas (#2,186)

Wait, what happened to Fark?

cherrispryte (#444)

I started reading in like 2001ish. But it was fantastic and hilarious at the time. Whether it's because the quality of the website has declined or my standards for "awesome on the internet" have risen considerably, I'm not sure, but it's way less intelligent and funny than it used to be. There's also an ugly misogynistic streak running through the comments that I don't remember always being there – but it could just be because I didn't pick up on it in my pre-bra-burning femi-nazi days.

NickDouglas (#2,186)

A lot of these forums do get misogynistic, maybe simply because that's what happens when the userbase is mostly men. I get the feeling that Metafilter, which has less of a tech slant and more of a liberal arts slant, doesn't tolerate nearly as much racism and sexism.

SeanP (#4,058)

I can't believe no one mentioned Slashdot, which (I believe) has been around quite a bit longer than the others (well, at least digg and Reddit). Of course, it's primarily by and for geek types, but they cover a bunch of not-strictly-geeky topics as well.

NickDouglas (#2,186)

Any clue what their traffic numbers are? I mean, since Reddit showed that publicly available estimates are bullshit.

Sean Peters (#6,014)

The only info I can find is via Netcraft, which provides "site rankings" – presumably in order of traffic. is 142, Reddit is on the order of 276,000. Interesting, but I'm not sure how reliable the information is.

Sean Peters (#6,014)

Oh, and in case it isn't obvious: I'm the same guy as "SeanP". It's just that I can't log on via Facebook at work, and I can't seem to use the WordPress login at home for some reason.

quippd (#6,819)

Slashdot is still the granddaddy. There is a video of Steve Huffman (founder behind reddit) saying that reddit was meant to be an improvement on Slashdot.

On that count, I would say that they failed miserably. At most, reddit is an improvement on Digg, but it has never had quite the caliber of commentary that Slashdot had (and has).

sigerson (#179)

And what about metafilter? Didn't they save those poor Russian girls from sex slavery in Brighton Beach or whatever?

JP Meyer (#7,607)

I wonder what the effect of all the porn on Reddit has with its traffic and whatnot. They're the first search result on Google for "jailbait", the second for "nsfw", the third for "pornography", and the fourth for "pics".

NickDouglas (#2,186)

I have a secret login on Reddit just for browsing all the porn.

Apphacker (#7,609)

4chan is a bastion of child porn and should be shut down. Because blogs like this I checked it out once and saw gruesome pictures of *children* being sexually abused. That site is horrible. Why do people keep talking about it? Why doesn't law enforcement do something about it?

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Those are the people from EbaumsWorld who do that, and the entries are deleted and those users are banned.

LouF (#7,726)

The author claims "Reddit spent two weeks petitioning them online-and raising more than $240,000 for Colbert's favorite charity", but when you click the link for his source, it says "the campaign quickly spread online on *Facebook and Twitter.*"

The money was raised through the strength of facebook and Twitter. Reddit can't even keep ITSELF afloat.

Reddit is not "rising". It's a small community of hiveminded teenagers. Reddit has never made a dime of profit and never will. The site will be gone in six months.

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