What is Reddit and how does it work?

Reddit is a social news aggregator , a mixture of discussion platform and link distributor, divided into forums, the so-called subreddits. Users, the redditors , are content creators, consumers and curators. Using a point system consisting of upvotes and downvotes, the community determines which content and discussions are important – these will appear at the top of the feed. The platform is largely self-managed, the moderators act as the guards of the forum.

According to SimilarWeb polls, nearly 40% of Reddit users live in the United States.
According to SimilarWeb polls, nearly 40% of Reddit users live in the United States.

Reddit is mainly used in the United States, where it enjoys a not inconsiderable popularity since almost 40% of the users of the social network live there. Over time we will see if this trend will also take root in Italy.

Perhaps Facebook‘s increasingly negative media attention and the resulting mass exodus of its users that is happening lately may represent an opportunity for other social networks like Reddit. But what exactly is this social platform? In this article we explain how Reddit was born and how to use it.

Idea behind and birth of Reddit

Reddit bills itself as the first Internet page ( “The Front Page of the Internet”). In fact, on the social news aggregator you can find the most important news and topics of the day, just like the front page of a paper newspaper. In both cases, what appears on the “front page” is chosen by the editorial staff, which in the case of Reddit are its users, the redditor . Using this metaphor, Reddit proclaims itself the first port of call on the World Wide Web. Although the number of users in Italy suggests otherwise, perhaps Reddit hides great potential. After all, the number of subreddits in the world has grown dramatically over the past decade, from nearly 11,000 (2008) to around 1.64 million (September 2019).

Reddit collects social news in an impressive number of forums, the so-called subreddits , opened by users themselves. The forum as it was used in Roman antiquity can be seen as the idea behind the website. In fact, the Roman Forum was not only a central place where people visited temples and attended public trials, but also a place of spiritual exchange .

Modern Internet forums have developed from the advertising bulletin boards of the 1980s. Typically a forum deals with a main topic and breaks it down into sub-topics. In this regard, there are directories, subforums , which on Reddit are called subreddits. Within a subforum, users create new posts on a specific topic. These can be questions and requests for help, but also informative articles, photos and videos. Humorous and creative contributions are often encountered here, but there is also no lack of controversial discussions.

A brief history of Reddit

Reddit was born from an idea of Alexis Ohanion and Steve Huffman , with the collaboration of a development team consisting of physicist Christopher Slowe and activist Aaron Swartz. The company and its founders attracted a lot of attention when they campaigned against the US law against online piracy (SOPA) in 2012 and, along with other well-known portals, including Wikipedia, took the entire domain offline with a so-called blackout in protest .

The site administrators are still committed to protecting the freedom of speech and anonymity of their users. This is expressed both in the guidelines for the pages and in the Reddiquette (the Reddit label). Transparency is ensured by the transparency reports published annually .

In 2015, founding member Steve Huffman returned to Reddit as CEO. At the time, Reddit employed around 100 people; in 2017 there were already 230. During all these years the platform was mainly composed of American users. However, there is a small Italian-speaking community which among other things has helped to make the most important official documents (such as the Reddiquette) and part of the user interface accessible in Italian. Additionally, there are rules of conduct in seven other languages ​​and around 90 more or less fully translated languages ​​for the user interface, including pirate slang (“Arrrrrrrrrr”).

The technology that Reddit is based on

Originally the website was written in Common Lisp, but before the release the development team switched to Python . The web.py framework, which Swartz built for Reddit and is now available as open source software, has also been replaced. The successor is Pylons . From 2008 to September 2017, Reddit’s source code was officially open source on GitHub. Even today, Reddit continues to use open source tools, in line with company policy.

In 2009 Reddit migrated to the Amazon Web Services cloud, and since 2012, internal search relies on 2012 Amazon CloudSearch. The free Apache Cassandra NoSQL database administration system is increasingly used for the cloud database .

RabbitMQ open source software is message-oriented middleware and supports Reddit offline processes.

The official Reddit application is available for Android and iOS. As it’s not very popular in the community, some competitors have established themselves including Boost, Relay, BaconReader, and Sync. For tablets with the Android operating system there is Income. Even for desktop PCs there is a compatible (unofficial) application that works on multiple platforms: Redditr.

How does Reddit work?

Reddit forums thrive on user-created content . Community members create subreddits on specific topics and set forum rules. Other users act as moderators and apply the rules in the subreddit. Reddit itself already has netiquette (here called Reddiquette ) and guidelines for pages. Each subreddit also has its own rules, which determine which contributions are allowed. Moderators delete comments that violate forum rules and can exclude repeat offenders from the group.

Some points of the Reddiquette are summarized below :

  • The same behavioral rules and laws apply on the Internet as in real life.
  • When evaluating posts, moderators should not think about whether or not they reflect their opinion, but focus on their quality.
  • If possible, the link to the original source should always be inserted.
  • A fair vote (upvote / downvote) improves the content and discussion for everyone.
  • Promotional content is not allowed.
  • So-called doxing (the publication of personal data of third parties) leads to expulsion.
  • Comments should always contribute constructively to the discussion.
  • Instead of warming up to spelling or cross-posting (when a post appears on several subreddits), it’s best to vote and keep browsing (“vote and move on”).

Some people like to download videos from Reddit. They usually use: RedditVideoDownloader

Signing up

Reddit users usually attach great importance to their privacy. VPN and privacy discussions are on the agenda, with the support of the site operators. In a 2014 interview Victoria Taylor, the then head of communications, explained how Reddit informed its users as transparently as possible about banner ad geotargeting . Privacy and freedom of expression are the most important core values ​​for Reddit. Anyone, for example, who operates doxing and therefore publicly disseminates the private information of other users, is banned from the site. Therefore the registration procedure is very simple and can be done in a few seconds:

  1. Open reddit.com.
  2. Click on “Sign up” at the top right.
  3. A window will open asking for your e-mail address . You do not need to enter it to register. It only serves to change the password in case you forget it.
  4. Click on “ Next ”. It is also possible to continue without an e-mail address.
  5. Enter a username under “Username”, and under “Password” enter a secure password .
  6. By clicking on the captcha you confirm that you are not a bot.
  7. If you have entered your email address, you will receive an email with a link to verify your address.

First steps

Sign up for subreddits

On the main Reddit page there is a feed of the best current posts . In the new design, you can choose between a grid view, classic or compact version. The feed can be filtered through the options “Best”, “Popular”, “New”, “Ascending”, etc. At this point, you have the opportunity to log in and subscribe to the subreddits. If you use the search function instead, the results list shows the subreddits dealing with the same theme and the Reddit posts where the search term appears.

If you filter your feed by user rating, you will see the most recent posts. Alternatively, you can select an interesting subreddit.
If you filter your feed by user rating, you will see the most recent posts. Alternatively, you can select an interesting subreddit.

By clicking on the ” join ” button , posts from a subreddit will enter your feed. By selecting the view filter for most recent posts, you can be among the first to rate a post and potentially rank it among the most popular posts of the day.

Posts and points

Within a subreddit, members publish posts. If there isn’t a forum for the topic yet, you can create a subreddit yourself. Posts consist of a link or a newly written text (“self-post”).

On the Reddit homepage you will see a pencil next to your name. Clicking on it will open a new window. You decide whether to write a text or share an image or a link with other redditor. Then select a subreddit in which to publish the post. You can also add a header to the message and select a tag that categorizes the content.

You decide what to post and where. Even your profile counts as a subreddit, whose moderator is you.
You decide what to post and where. Even your profile counts as a subreddit, whose moderator is you.

If other users write comments under your post, the post turns into a thread (discussion). Traditionally, forums organize the resulting conversations in a tree structure . Users can see at a glance which answer belongs to which comment. The first post is called the original post and the author the original poster (often abbreviated as OP in conversations).

The “raspberry_pi” subreddit post consists of a title and a link. Next to the title are the karma points of the post, here 861
The “raspberry_pi” subreddit post consists of a title and a link. Next to the title are the karma points of the post, here 861

In the photo above you can see a post and its discussion. To the left of the header are the karma points of the post. You can use the arrows to vote up or down on the message. The link refers to Imgur , an image sharing platform. The now independent site was donated by developer Alan Schaaf to the Reddit community.

A special feature of Reddit

A special feature of how Reddit works is that users rate posts and comments with karma points . Posts with a lot of points are higher up on the homepage and in subreddits. Points are not only a sign of popularity, but also of quality. This way the best posts will appear at the top of the feed for every member to see.

Not only actual posts, but discussion contributions can also be voted on. The arrows to the left of the comments are used by users. For evaluation with so-called upvotes and downvotes . Each upvote is a positive point for karma, each downvote a negative point. In general, according to the rules of Reddit. Karma points should be distributed according to whether the messages constructively contribute to the topic . So they’re not necessarily an indicator of how many people are of the same opinion.

The system adds upvotes and downvotes. Whoever receives more downvotes than upvotes will receive negative karma points. Comments with a score below the threshold are minimized. So that only the author’s name is displayed. However, curious readers can access it by clicking on it. The dots are located to the right of the username (here rendered unrecognizable).

Each redditor collects the sum of karma points from posts and comments during their entire stay on Reddit. Anyone who has collected a lot of points is considered a reliable member. Who often intervenes in discussions. In an anonymous forum like Reddit (users rarely use real names) these points are also a quality indicator for selecting new moderators.

What are the most popular subreddits? A brief overview

The first successful subreddits were the forums created in 2005 “NSFW”. Short for: “Not Safe for Work”, “Programming”, “Science” and later “Politics”.

Reddit publishes a list of currently popular communities every day.
Reddit publishes a list of currently popular communities every day.

Especially in recent years, the number of subreddits has grown significantly. Some of the early subreddits have practically become classics. Many Redditors have subscribed to these channels for years, and receive news from a closed community they trust. Animated discussions and entertainment stimuli are on the agenda here.

In addition to ar / Announcements (official posts from the Reddit team) and r / funny (collection of humorous contributions), ” r / AskReddit ” tops the list with around 25 million subscribers . AskReddit’s first rule is that post titles must consist of a clearly identifiable question. This should generate a discussion. Personal issues are therefore reserved for other subreddits. The “r / TodayILearned” channel (usually abbreviated to TIL) pursues the opposite concept: here users post messages when they have learned a new and interesting fact . Titles should always start with “TIL” and express the learning experience as concisely as possible.

Other subreddits

The “r / Politics”, “r / WorldNews” and “r / news” forums cover news , although the former deals with US politics. Other subreddits are dedicated to sports. Also in the United States. Such as “r / NBA” for basketball, “r / soccer” for soccer and “r / NFL” for American football. Even gaming is a trending topic on Reddit, as you can see from the popular community “r / gaming”.

The ” r / IAmA ” subreddit has made headlines several times. Its basic principle is quickly explained: here users present themselves as people.  With certain experiences and answer the questions of other users. The experience or expertise can be everyday, but it can have interesting aspects that many people do not know, such as “IAmA Lifeguard – Ask Me Anything” (“I’m a lifeguard, ask me a question”).

Especially popular, however, are people who do or have experienced something extraordinary… or who run for the highest political office in the United States. When in 2012 Barack Obama gave a thirty-minute campaign interview with the headline ” I am Barack Obama, President of the United States “, Reddit collapsed due to the large turnout of users. The questions and answers from the thread were also mentioned in national news.

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