What Makes Reddit Different?

I Can Haz Human Decency: Why Reddit is more like a Charlie Brown holiday special than other garden-variety Web 2.0 sites.

When Thanksgiving rolls around, we're thinking you won’t be sitting back reminiscing that time you were called a @#$% on Digg -- repeatedly, and insult-to-injury down-voted -- for posting a link to kittens jumping into boxes. Or the time Slashdot users called a female tech writer "ugly" when someone posted her article about tech and social justice.

You'll recline in front of the fireplace with your loved ones, full of feast and wine, thinking Thank you, groupthink Internet. Today I'm thankful for the great gifts you bestow of anonymous verbal abuse from community-driven link sharing sites.

Not so much, eh?

Us too. But when we saw what the users on Reddit have been up to lately, we wondered if it was backwards day on the Internet.

Social link sharing website Reddit isn't like the other girls. Marketing blog Volter Creative did a roundup of the things Reddit has made news with over the past few years, and promptly decided that if Digg is going to rise out of its coffin yet again, then Reddit might be Buffy.

In a huge post titled Reddit’s Astonishing Altruism, we find out that when Condé Nast wanted to buy their very own version of MetaFilter or Slashdot, they sort of won the link sharing community lottery. Reddit's voracious, sprawling community is just as full of the trolls and mob mentality as the other guys but something very different is at work here: Reddit mobilizes its forces for some pretty astonishing acts of giving.

I Can Haz Wheelchair?

The most famous event Reddit found itself in recently was being the epicenter and groundswell to kickstart The Daily Show and Colbert Report's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. In case you missed it, two days after Glenn Beck's rally a Reddit member (called "Redditors") voiced hope for a response rally by Daily Show's Jon Stewart. Fellow Redditors carried the torch until it became a bonfire to the tune of Reddit community members donating $500,000 in support of the rally to donorschoose.org.

The non-celebrity actions of Reddit are what might just turn your blackened, Internet-frozen heart into warm fluffy kittens and snuggly puppies. This October, in response to a young girl with Huntington's Disease being bullied and taunted online about dying, Redditors raised $17K for a shopping spree for the girl; she shopped all she possibly could and then gave the rest to Mott’s Children’s Hospital for new toys.

In the first week of September a random invitation to a man's 90th birthday party was posted on 4Chan and then shared on Reddit, and the next day began a flood of cards, gifts flowers and presents for the veteran: five UPS trucks were needed for deliveries from internet strangers on the day of William Lashua’s very happy 90th birthday party.

Reddit community members also raised money for Redditor “wilwaldon” mother's funeral costs; they've bought a wheelchair for a disabled member and erupted in gifts for a member who had cancer.

It's a nerd's world: The tech skills of Redditors have put a decidedly geek-flavored spin on the tales of giving, thanks and kindness from a type of forum more associated with sexism than a hive-mind do-gooder.

In 2009, Redditors used their search-fu to help a community member reunite with his birth mother. Expert Photoshop skills saved the last photo of a member's deceased mother; the same year members put their skills to work in clarifying an image from a surveillance camera to aid in a murder investigation.

Redditors are also known for talking members out of suicidal thoughts, and have an area on the site called "SuicideWatch". When a Redditor called “Dpressed” posted that she couldn't shake her urge to die, forum conversation led to her revealing specific clues which led to a fellow Redditor matching Dpressed's symptoms with his wife's: the culprit was a form of birth control both women had been using. Dpressed discovered that this was the problem, and expressed her gratitude in the post Thank you, reddit, you have saved my life.

Page 2: [What makes Reddit so different?]  »

What makes Reddit so different? You can say that community outreach orgs and foundations do this and more, but we're talking about a site where people swap links about losing weight, sea monster maps, the evils of the TSA and bird poop.

And, Redditors have performed acts of vengeance and attacks of cruelty just as other link sharing sites are known to do. Like on other link aggregators, the mob rule can get distasteful, to put it lightly. It is just as much a place to see racist comments, post links to cat videos, get downvoted for no reason, talk someone out of feeling suicidal, call people rude names –- and get together with people to help out with a good cause. Wherever you have a lot of people, and these communities have suffered and excelled from their own growth, you get immaturity and drama.

Reddit has much in common with Digg, MetaFilter, Slashdot, StumbleUpon, Fark and similar community-driven link aggregators. Links get voted up or down, comments get voted up or down. For a lot of us, these sites are places to look for news and memes before they hit the bigger sites. And we're seldom disappointed; the sites' systems capitalize on users interacting with the content and each other. Links rise in popularity; people get personally invested in participation.

I think the difference Reddit has is in its community -- which is in direct correlation to the site's architecture. The other sites maintain a structural focus on submissions, focusing on becoming their own publishing outlets, with a bias toward publishing, and publishers. Reddit, rather than being article focused (and necessarily encouraging rifts around interest in the articles), focuses with its SubReddits on community interests and discussions. I don’t know that it makes Reddit successful, but it does make them… not like the others.

Condé Nastiness

Don’t tell Condé Nast that it's a difference you can't measure in Diggs or Likes. As with many web behemoths full of people capable of great good or great disaster, Reddit was a fun little college-grad startup that got acquired by Condé Nast in 2006 as it was in bloom. Continuing its course, it became open source and blossomed. Apparently without much help from Nast.

Condé Nast has become known for neglecting Reddit (perhaps because it did not understand what made it different, and that this difference has a value). Right before the recent elections, Reddit found its staff and community at loggerheads with Condé Nast over political ads. Reddit supported 19, Condé Nast said no way, and Reddit posted their stance -- which led to a sitewide backlash against Nast. Seeing this, Ben Huh, founder and CEO of The Cheezburger Network (of I Can Haz Cheezburger fame) posted this public offer to buy Reddit from Condé Nast.

Condé Nast didn't take the cheeseburger bait, which is kind of too bad. So this bizarrely powerful, vibrant and surprising link sharing community short on support and resources, sits with potential unrealized. It's like the opposite of WIRED.

Though it's tough not to read about the altruism and not feel all fuzzy inside about people and stuff, so maybe we do have something to be thankful about. Despite the best efforts of trolls and greed, thankfully the Internet is still not quite what it seems.

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