Ain't No Drama Like Reddit Drama
I talked last week about the drama occurring on Reddit regarding the API price-out. And since then, the issues have spilled out onto national news, with implications for the web at large.
Things took an interesting turn when Reddit's CEO, Steve Huffman (known to users as u/spez), hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) to clear the air with users. Perhaps the hope was to cool the tension and potentially prevent the blackout protests announced by hundreds of Subreddits. However, I can only assume that Huffman has never seen an AMA go down on his own platform before or grossly misjudged user sentiments, as things clearly did not go to plan.
Despite tens of thousands of user questions, Hoffman and a team of 3 administrators made all of 21 replies during the AMA, some of which were clarifications or hyperlinks to other comments. Notably, none of these replies acknowledged the then-upcoming blackouts, nor did they go into any depth regarding the API changes, why they cost so much, or how Reddit planned to deal with the problems that will inevitably occur in their absence.
However, Huffman did take the time to call out the developer of Apollo, Christian Selig, who was the one to reveal the API changes in the first place, stating:
"His behavior and communications with us has been all over the place—saying one thing to us while saying something completely different externally; recording and leaking a private phone call—to the point where I don’t know how we could do business with him."
Selig clearly had one eye on this AMA and didn't seem to take too kindly to this statement:
"Please feel free to give examples where I said something differently in public versus what I said to you." he replied, " I give you full permission."
Huffman did not respond.
To put it bluntly, the AMA was a dumpster fire, succeeding only in creating a massive thread of grievances and placating no one.
So then the blackouts occurred, with over 8,000 communities going dark on the 12th and 13th.
I have seen a lot of back and forth over whether a two-day, pre-planned blackout did much to hurt Reddit. After all, not everyone joined, and it is probably safe to assume that more users logged on just to see the "damage."
What it did do, though, was raise a lot of awareness on the situation, with the story making its way into major news outlets.
The blackout also left black holes in the results of major search engines."
In an internal memo, Huffman downplayed the financial impact, telling staff "Like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well.”
Of course, this memo made its way into the public eye, where it succeeded in annoying users even further. And now, many Subreddits will be going dark indefinitely.
So what is next? Is this the end of Reddit? Time for some armchair analyses.
I do not think Reddit is going to die off anytime soon. At least, I don't think anyone should hold their breath for a sudden dramatic collapse. It also doesn't look like the developers are going to back down on the changes they want to make. Instead, it seems more likely they are going to pull another Twitter and weather the storm amidst controversy, despite the hit to their reputation and user base.
Nonetheless, for some observers, this situation has once again revealed the issue that lies at the heart of traditional social media platforms. Eventually, investors will always become prioritized over users. I hoped Reddit might be an exception to the rule, but recent actions do not inspire confidence.
To be clear, I have nothing against monetization - we've all got to hustle. But there's a certain degree of integrity that, in my opinion, these platforms cannot seem to fathom. And the sickness that is enshittification always develops into a kind of amnesia too, one where companies forget that it is the free contributions of users, and not they, that produce value for their platforms.
Thankfully, for those wanting to look elsewhere, there are already alternatives to these sites, including the blogosphere, email, the IndieWeb, and the Fediverse. And it is the latter in particular that offers one of the most promising alternatives to Reddit - Lemmy.
But this link blog has once again turned into an essay, so that's something I'm going to talk about next week.