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article imageHow reddit is not so quietly dominating the Internet Special

By David Silverberg     Apr 2, 2012 in Internet
The company's general manager is leading the Time 100 poll. Its users take real-world action for charitable causes. It also attracts more than 2 billion pageviews monthly. Find out why reddit will continue to be one of the most influential forces online.
When you first decide to join the online community reddit, winning over Web surfers since 2005, it's almost overwhelming to choose how to organize your "front page." You can simply scan the top stories in all categories, or sub-reddits, as they're known. But that would be pointless; people join reddit to learn more about the topics of interest to them, from knitting to world news to Breaking Bad to atheism. Once you realize how exhaustive the possibilities are on reddit, you can't help but realize how reddit can be your guide to everything you love.
reddit, based in San Francisco, has become so influential its general manager Erik Martin is now the leading vote-getter on the Time 100 poll, honouring those that have helped shaped the world in 2011. Even if critics dismiss the lead as the reddit hivemind just working to promote one of their own, it's hard to ignore reddit's position as one of the top sites on the Web: it attracts more than 2 billion pageviews monthly, its active sub-reddits number close to 10,000 and it gives birth to memes such as I'm With Coco and Troll Quotes.
This community attracts a wide variety of people, from everyday folks who love talking about animals to comedian Stephen Colbert and Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings. What's so attractive about reddit?
"I find it to be a moderate place to have an intelligent discussion," says Leigh Doyle of Toronto, a redditor for the past 18 months. She also finds it interesting to spot a news story on reddit and then notice the mainstream media cover the same news several days after.
After all, it's called reddit (aka "read it") for a reason, right?
"reddit is a community of communities," explains Martin in a phone interview. No matter what you love, even if you think it's too niche to have an online home, you'll find it on reddit, Martin adds.
But there are many online forums for, say, cat videos or gluten-free recipes, so what makes reddit stand out? After a few years tracking reddit's rise, I've noticed how selfless redditors can be when championing a cause or assisting someone in need. Good deeds seem to the currency some redditors shop with.
For instance, a young woman needed to buy a hearing aid after suffering hearing loss but she didn't have enough money. She explained her story on reddit and users banded together to raise enough funds to help her. Her reddit link title said it all, "It was the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard."
More recently, a woman in Texas posted a YouTube video of her father abusing her, caught on quite a candid camera. She tried spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter but only when she posted the video on reddit did the story rocket to the coveted front page and won her enormous attention. The story made news around the world.
"People want to be part of something bigger than themselves," Martin says to explain the do-good phenomenon. "Those on the Net can sympathize with the underdog."
Erik Martin  GM of reddit
Erik Martin, GM of reddit
Courtesy Erik Martin
For some users, the attraction lies on the content "liked" by users (similar to Digital Journal, people can vote for a story and it can shoot to the top of the respective category). Another redditor Stuart Foster, on the site since 2008, says," If I click on an article on the front page, it's usually going to be one that requires some thought and has the depth that I appreciate." He adds, "Also the comments are amazing."
All this adulation for a website that hasn't redesigned its look since, well, ever. Few sites can pull this off (think Drudge Report, Wikipedia, Craigslist), but the look of reddit wants to focus more on the links and the discussion instead of the graphic design.
"For me, that's part of the appeal," Doyle says. "I love that simplicity."
Martin notes while the front page isn't too busy-looking, any moderator of a sub-reddit can customize the look of their community, even allowing for a tweak to the name of sub-reddit subscribers (for example, those who join the Breaking Bad sub-reddit are called "meth heads.")
"We want to give members the freedom to experiment with reddit, to try new things," Martin says.
reddit is now independent, having broken off from their parent company Conde Nast in September 2011. The relationship didn't mean reddit was beholden to Conde Nast executives and their bottom line; rather, reddit was given the flexibility to remain as it was, which Martin greatly appreciated.
"But we noticed [when reddit became indpendent] many of our members were excited by this development," he says, perhaps an under-statement for those happy to see reddit return to its roots.
Foster says, "The marriage didn't make much sense to me in the first place. I don't know if Conde Nast ever really knew what it had."
So what does Martin and his 15 staffers have under their fingertips? An Internet giant poised to become even more influential. A few months ago they were instrumental in drumming up support to oppose the SOPA Web piracy bills. Their AMA posts (where celebrities appear on reddit to answer user-submitted questions) are attracting A-list celebs such as Louis CK. Sub-reddits continue to be created almost daily, if not hourly.
Looking ahead, Martin is interested see how reddit affects offline relationships. Many cities hold in-real-life meetups with reddit members, an offshoot the reddit staff will continue to support, Martin stresses.
For some redditors, they don't want to see any change. "I like the status quo right now," Doyle says. She pauses, then adds, "But you know what, I'd really like more people to know about reddit. Or maybe more people know about it than they care to admit."
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