How to Organize a Political Community Using Reddit
November 17, 2011
MICAH SIFRY: Hi everybody, this is Micah Sifry from Personal Democracy Forum and welcome back to our on-going series of Personal Democracy Plus conferences calls with people who are making change happen using technology, the movers, the shakers, the innovators.
Every other week we bring you a conversation with folks who are doing cutting edge work in the field and this week it’s a special pleasure to be focusing on the gigantic community news website Reddit, R-E-D-D-I-T (dot) com is the site and we are going to be looking at how Reddit works and in particular how you can organize a political community there and do some really surprising things with all the volunteer energy that flows through that site every day.
And to help us understand the whole politically ecosystem of Reddit we’re going to be joined by Eric Martin who is the General Manger of the site and Eddie Geller who is a Redditor, just a regular user of the site who a couple months back got very fired up over the issue of net neutrality and wrote a post on Reddit that ended up helping him and some other folks actually launch what became a political action community, a real life organization that is mobilizing people who care about that issue to raise money and try and affect the political debates.
So, welcome guys. So, just to start off I was hoping Eric, the General Manager of Reddit; Eric, if you would maybe just give us some big picture. What is Reddit? How big? How many people are on the site on a daily basis? How does it work?
ERIK MARTIN: Sure. Hi everybody, I’m Eric Martin, I’m the General Manager of Reddit and Reddit is about six years old, a little more than six years old. It is currently one of the top 50 websites in the U. S. and top 100 in the world. We did about 2 billion page views a month, which makes us bigger than CNN, New York Times, Match.com, etc., so, a big traffic site.
And what is really is is sort of a community of people sharing things they’re interested in so it could be links to new articles, it could be just rants they’re posting in text, it could be questions they’re asking about something they read or something that’s not working right in a video game they’re playing. It could be comics they’re drawing, videos, anything like that. And people should share these and they get voted up and down by other users and then everyone’s front page is this sort of fast churning assortment of these different links or other pieces of content.
And the big difference between Reddit I think, especially in the context of using it as a tool for organizing is that any Redditer can make a sub-Reddit. And so what that is is that that’s a sub-section of the site that that creator has a fair amount of control over how to use it. So, people have – we don’t have – you know, we have some big categories, things like videos, world news, sports; but then we also have a bunch of sort of sub-Reddits that were started by users that have kind of become their own little communities and have a bunch of traffic and attention in their own right.
One example is the sub-Reddit called IAMA; IAMA was started a couple years ago just by random Reditter and the format, sort of rhetorical format of it is someone comes on and says, I am a Congressman from Washington State, ask me anything. I am a high school teacher who got fired because I hugged a student, ask me anything. I am a – whatever.
So, that sub-Reddit routinely gets kind of celebrities, both national and local politicians come on and do kind of things and people also kind of ordinary people whose story is remarkable or particularly newsworthy or just funny.
So, other ways this sort of Reddit platform has been used that might be of interest here is people will use it for local communities. So, almost every city or town in the U.S., every college has their own sub-Reddit. In some of the big cities – New York, San Francisco, Austin, etc. – people are doing something almost every day just within the Reddit community, and (inaudible) something off line every day.
Maybe they go see a movie, maybe they’re playing board games, maybe they’re having a big party at a bar, maybe doing something with a protest, whatever, right?
So, if it’s a local issue, that’s a whole different section of Reddit I think might be really interesting to watch. But it’s an open platform so I hope we have more and more experimentation with people doing things like what Eddie’s done and people trying things at the local or national or even international level.
MICAH SIFRY: That’s a great overview, Eric. But when somebody just comes to the site kind of green, visiting it for the first time, there are certain sign posts, right that if they encounter that you guys who are managing the site are making some choices, right? I mean, you don’t point out every single sub-Reddit that you’ve found. You obviously make some choices about ones to – you know, how to organize information and there may be hundreds of politics sub-Reddits but if I go to the site, I’ll see about I don’t know, about two dozen that you’ve picked out to highlight.
Is there any method to how you decide what is important or deserves more attention? Are there any metrics or algorithms working here that you have to hit a certain bar and then – how does that work?
ERIK MARTIN: So, yeah, so our (inaudible) is fairly dynamic and fluid and things can get on there very quickly. But we do is – the first time you sign up for an account or you’re visiting the site and not signed in as most people are, I mean most people are not signed in, sorry.
So, when you just come to the site you will see basically the top posts from about 20 different sub-Reddits that are the basically the most popular sub-Reddits. So, that page you see, you’ll see the top 25 things across all those sub-Reddits. So, you know, they’re going to be mixed in together.
And basically the algorithm is essentially the number of people that have voted up, the people who have voted down and basically the time factor, you know, how quickly someone got a number of votes or how long it’s been since then so that there’s a good, fresh churn all the time.
When you sign up then you can customer that front page experience by unsubscribing or subscribing to other sub-Reddits, in which case when you come to the site, you’re front page may be very different than someone before who signed in.
And as far as what is means or what it takes for something to break through, even though we are trying to make it a little more fluid, there are still – like kind of a threshold or something – kind of hits to the front page, which means it’s possible people who are not logged in see it on the first page of the site. Links get posted there, you’re talking thousands of (inaudible) use for anything that hits the front page.
And since it’s – it really depends on what sub-Reddit it is, the time of day, the speed at which it votes, but usually things on the front page have hundreds of thousands of votes and hundreds or thousands of comments as well.
MICAH SIFRY: I think at one point you told me you get about a half million unique visitors a day, is that roughly –
ERIK MARTIN: We get about a million a day.
MICAH SIFRY: A million a day.
ERIK MARTIN: Yeah.
MICAH SIFRY: And that’s mostly from the United States or all over?
ERIK MARTIN: It’s probably about 70 percent domestic and 30 percent international and the nice – one of the nice things is that it seems like, compared to most sites, the – particularly something like Facebook and to an extent Twitter that there’s a nice mix of international people participating and offering perspective in a positive way in the U. S. palette on political discussion and people are talking about high speed rail or something like that. I don’t see quite a cross pollination of some other sites.
MICAH SIFRY: Is it all in English?
ERIK MARTIN: The majority of it, even in countries outside the English speaking ones, the majority is in English but we do have Reddit – there’s a version of Reddit in I think like 50 different languages including like (sounds like: Tai-riq). So, we have a –
MICAH SIFRY: Wow, that’s pretty impressive. And in terms of those million people who visit it every day, how many of them visit as signed in as regular visitors and how many of them are folks who are just coming to the site because it’s kind of an interesting barometer of what people are talking about.
ERIK MARTIN: Yeah, so like the general rule of thumb no matter what site you’re talking about or is 90 percent of the people not signed in and 10 percent of the people are, and I would say Reddit is pretty close though I think when we look at the numbers maybe we’re at 85 / 15 or 80 / 20, but the majority of people are not signed in, so 80 to 90 percent of the people are just kind of passively browsing. But that’s kind of what you see all over the web.
MICAH SIFRY: So, what that means is that 80 to 90 percent are encountering either the home page for – that hasn’t been customized per your own interests or they’re actually coming to the site through a link that someone has shared to a specific post where may they’re attracted to a conversation around a particular topic.
And then do people hang out on the site for while? Do they bounce around?
ERIK MARTIN: Yeah, people – we have – our time on site, which is the average time someone spends when they don’t – for each session, so the average time on site is about 17 minutes, which is – it’s extremely high. I mean, YouTube is a little higher, Facebook is about the same, so 17 minute time on site, people spend a lot of time on Reddit.
And for a lot of people that is the internet for them. For the people who use it a lot, that’s – they go to all the places but they go through (inaudible) of Reddit –
MICAH SIFRY: And does Reddit take any advertising or can you sponsor a link or anything like that or is it all grass roots?
ERIK MARTIN: Right, so we mix all our revenue from premium memberships from our users, and it’s really just a way for them to kind of show their support. They get a couple extra features but it’s really just a way for them to kind of pay for the fact that they enjoy. And then we also do have advertising and the advertising (inaudible) vernacular of a Reddit post, you know, much the same way that sponsor Tweets or the way Google pay search results are kind of shown next to similar things, so we have these sponsored things and people can have – it’s nice because you can have (inaudible) so it’s a way for people to get feedback and also get some attention to their site or their app or their fundraiser or whatever and you can target those by sub-Reddit. So, you can target them locally, you can target them by just people who are libertarian engineers, whatever.
MICAH SIFRY: Hah, that’s interesting. I’ll have to dig into that a bit further, maybe later into the call. One last question and then I’m going to turn to Eddie.
If you had to describe the culture of Reddit or the values of its users, is there anything – I mean I’ve certainly noticed there seems to be a lot of helping. You know, there’s a certain degree of if somebody asks for help, describes their personal situation in authentic terms, frequently people will just help them. So, I’m wondering first of all if you’d comment on that and what other signs – what to you is the Reddit culture?
ERIK MARTIN: Yeah, so I think that the kind of underlying culture that sometimes expresses itself in some kind of altruistic movement, it’s just that people – Reddit people say yes to things. They kind of see a good idea and say, yeah, what else can I do to this? How can I latch on to this? I want to be a part of this? This looks like fun. The thing’s gaining momentum. I want to be part of the story rather than just sit back and watch it and that has to do with the people who come to Reddit don’t just want to read about the news, they want to comment on it, they want to vote it, they want to help try to decide what’s important, they want to ask a question that may wind up making it into the conversation.
So, when something happens and someone says, hey, my house burned down and I don’t know what to do? Or someone like Eddie comments and says, hey, I have this idea for a project, I really thought it through but I just feel –
-- it’s the right thing to do. People will jump in and say yes, Eddie it is the right thing to do and we’re behind you and we want to get involved and we’d rather be a part of it than rather be a part of it. So, a lot of times it does kind of take an altruistic or a – even sometimes an activist speak.
You see the same thing when a meeting or a joke starts on Reddit. People say, oh, I want to be a part of this, I want to try my hand at re-mixing it or evolving it. And it’s pretty cool and there’s not many other places where anyone without already – anybody who doesn’t have a following can just come on and kind of throw an idea out there or post a video. I don’t know, the Texas judge who beat his daughter, that video was originally posted through Reddit.
There’s not many places where someone can place a video or an idea and be on the Today’s Show a couple days later who is not a power user or doesn’t say this or have a bunch of Twitter followers or an email list.
And at the same time and this is important, too, Reddit’s not just a distribution platform in the way that sometimes Twitter and Facebook are. So, if you come on and just kind of spam out your own ideas or spam out your own links or if Eddie came on every day and said, hey, donate to my pack without really being a part of the community, the tolerance for that is zero on Reddit.
So, it’s for people who are participating, it’s a safer way for them to participate without them being haunted for the rest of their lives by people following them with mailers and email newsletters and stuff.
MICAH SIFRY: One more question that’s coming out of the Twitter stream before we turn to Eddie. This comes from PDF friend Rich Robbins who asks, do you have demographic info about Reddit’s users and also is there an API, an Application Programming Interface, so people can have functionality from Reddit onto other sites.
ERIK MARTIN: Yeah, so demographically, depending on whose demographics you trust, Reddit is primarily 20 to 35 years old, (inaudible), 70 / 30 male, again 70/30 U. S., versus international. It’s a fairly well-educated or kids in college income and it really started as a kind of in the programmer and engineer and geek space and is still very much in that, although there are areas of Reddit that are just for each (inaudible) Reddit.
We have all different kinds of political sub-Reddits, but overall it’s people who are engineers, in the sciences, programming and kind of pop culture wise, aligned towards geek type things.
API, yes, Reddit has its own open source, which we’re very proud of and has led us to great things. And we do have an API, it’s – it’s not the best documented and sort of – you know, it’s probably not the best (inaudible) out there but people have made a lot of really interesting things with the Reddit API.
Now integrating with the site, there are also some widgets we have to showcase some top links from your domain on your site or the top Reddit stories from any given sub-Reddit, but adding to – we don’t let (inaudible) too much functionality from Reddit. Like for example, comments and things like that because Reddit, you know, the culture and the kind of experience on Reddit is very different than it might be on a different site. And we want to keep that – keep the context in the community of Reddit on Reddit because other sites have different communities and rules and context and you wind up having problems when you try to have both at the same time.
MICAH SIFRY: Good point. Okay, Eddie Geller, I want to pull you into the conversation.
Give us your story. How did you start using Reddit? At what point did you decide, oh, I’m going to try and organize something with it? How much of an accident was it and what have you learned along the way?
EDDIE GELLER: Well yeah, when Erik says that I had posted without fully thinking it through, I think that’s being very generous to the minimal amount of thought that was put into it when I started it.
But I will say I started visiting Reddit a few years ago and really loved the community that was on Reddit and found that people felt the same way about politics that I did. And I’m not an engineer and I’m not too technically savvy.
Up until very recently, I lived in Los Angeles and moved out there to be an actor and comedian but Reddit was a great place to find other people who were reading the same things I was reading, which was an interesting time because I think when I first starting going to Reddit there was – and I’m just speaking personally – there was a lot of frustration I think beginning to build from Obama and you know, some disenchantment there. And there weren’t a huge amount of places on the web to find other people who felt that way, but it just so happened that Reddit seemed to be – there seemed to be a lot of people there who were reading the same blogs and having the same frustrations.
So, anyway I’ve been on Reddit just reading stuff, posting stories occasionally and what happened, how I got really involved was one night I was reading this article on (sounds like: RothStory.com) and it said GOP WINS IN CONGRESS EFFECTIVELY DOOM NET NEUTRALITY. And this is November 7th of last year, so right after the new elections.
And my understanding of net neutrality at the time was just this completely benevolent thing, you know? And so it was just so mind blowing to think that we’re going to have this new Congress and this wonderful thing, net neutrality, is going to be brushed aside and you know the way the story’s presented it’s like, Oh, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so say goodbye to net neutrality.
So, I posted that article, and you can write your own headlines, which is isn’t is an interesting things because sometimes people don’t want you to editorialize a headline, but I think those are sometimes the best to read. But that’s not necessarily everyone on Reddit agrees.
But anyway, so I posted this article about net neutrality and I wrote the headline as YOU KNOW WHAT – F* THIS IDEA THAT WE CAN’T GET ANYTHING DONE WITH THE REPUBLICAN CONGRESS. IF WE WANT NET NEUTRALITY OR ANYTHING ELSE, THEN WE NEED TO DEMAND IT. And I said, I propose a Reddit Political Action Committee not committed to any party or politician, just good policy.
And so I posted this right before I went to bed and had just sort of posted it out of frustration and you know, maybe thought I was a little bit clever. I think anyone who posts anything on Reddit you know, is curious to see if it will be popular because I think there’s just like a very human thing to like you want to think like the thing you’re sharing, other people will like.
So, you know I posted this hopefully next morning other people would think this was interesting, and absolutely having no intentions of actually starting a Reddit Political Action Committee. But if someone else wants to do it, you know, they can go for it.
So, I woke up the next morning and thousands of people had seen it and there were hundreds of comments. And so I was pretty blown away. And my first comment on the post was if anyone wants to do this, I’ll give them – I’ll give $100 towards this. So, and still not buying into the fact that I’m going to do this. And then so as more posts come on I’m realizing if I don’t do this, no one is going to do it. And it seemed like an interesting enough idea that I didn’t want to just pass it by.
So, what I did is I created a sub-Reddit like Erik was talking about, you know, I just created Reddit.com/RPAC, Reddit Political Action Committee and told people to start joining it. And people went on the sub-Reddit and I also set up an email and so people just started submitting their ideas on the sub-Reddit because you can just post whatever you want.
And so people were posting ideas and we were deciding how we were all going to communicate with each other. We eventually just ended up just having a bunch of meetings in IRC chat rooms because that was just the best way for us to all communicate.
And I think it was either that day or the next day is when I got an email from someone at The Daily Beast and I think that speaks to what Erik was talking about is that there’s not a lot of places where you can post something, just be a dude and post something that’s popular and all of a sudden, you know, you get an email from a major news organization.
So, yeah, The Daily Beast wrote a piece about it and that got picked up by Gawker and then actually I was (inaudible) Tech President wrote something on it. And so it very quickly became – at least in my life – a very big deal.
And so over the next couple weeks we had meetings in IRC chat rooms and we deciding should be a 527, should we be a –
MICAH SIFRY: How many people at this point are participating?
EDDIE GELLER: Actively participating, I’d say maybe you know a few dozen people are posting ideas and posting comments. And I think at that time there were maybe 600 or 700 subscribers on the channel, on the sub –Reddit.
MICAH SIFRY: Right, and at this point have you – I mean, do you know who these people are? Are you still just handles on a screen, semi-anonymous –
EDDIE GELLER: (Laughter) yeah, I mean, completely, handles on a screen, you know? And so yeah, we were deciding what we want to do and you know, eventually we come to this decision that we should – we do want to fight for net neutrality with sort of this thing that kicked us off and everyone felt very passionate about it.
And so you know, we decided that – we actually decided we would be a 501(c)4 organization because that type of legal entity gave us the flexibility we would want to be able to do what we want – at least at the time we thought we wanted to be wanting to do.
And so as soon as that happened, as soon as we decided on net neutrality, that’s when I heard from Free Press, this media reform organization that runs SaveTheInternet.com who has been working on net neutrality for years now. And so they contacted us and said, hey, do you want to work with us? We’re doing this petition for the FCC had their meeting last December on net neutrality, which was actually a very – it was a very good time to get into the net neutrality fight.
And so we said, of course, we want to work with you so, you know, we did this petition drive with them, you know, helped them gather – they had gathered – they brought two million signatures to the FCC, so we helped them get a few thousand, which was just amazing to us to be part of that and to even have a little – to be able to be a little bit of a help to them.
So, I flew out to DC and I delivered petitions with them and I actually ended up having a phone conversation with one of the FCC commissioners, Minion Clybourne about net neutrality, which was crazy to me because it was only six weeks after I had made this post. All of a sudden I was on the phone with one of the FCC commissioners telling her about how the rules for wireless net neutrality were not strong enough.
So, it was just kind of funny to me. But it was great and it was amazing and then in – so we did that and then in February we actually ran this campaign that was Valentines for Net Neutrality, which is we had people go to our site and fill out a this little online form, you can make a valentine for Al Franken who’s great on net neutrality and for Kay Bailey Hutchinson who is not a big fan of net neutrality but we thought maybe if we did something sweet we could get into her good graces.
So, we did that, you know a few thousand people participated in that and then went back to DC and delivered the valentines. And yeah, I mean and this is like, you know we’re all – we’ve all be sort of learning, we’re still all volunteers but I mean it’s – Reddit has allowed us without an email list, which is normally what an advocacy organization needs to have – but without an email list we’re able to get out to people who care about this issue.
MICAH SIFRY: So, and the organization is now called The Open Source?
EDDIE GELLER: The Open Source – yeah, sorry to interrupt you.
MICAH SIFRY: Right. And it’s not – I mean it’s a political action committee, makes it sound like you’re raising money to support or defeat candidates. Are you actually doing that or is it really shifted more in the direction of just being an advocacy organization that is trying to educate people about this issue.
EDDIE GELLER: Yeah, the latter. We – you know, we’ve discussed a lot about whether we would want to –
-- run ads for / against candidates and one of the things about being an (c)4 is that we can still do some of that if we decide.
But net neutrality is something that we actually, you know, has been in the news a lot with the recent resolution of disapproval in the Senate, which I won’t dive too deep into, but – so, it’s actually – we’re actually in an interesting time for net neutrality where there’s not a ton of policy action going to be happening on it right now, but there’s still a lot more people that need to know this is an issue and there are – will be, you know, this is just something that people of the internet are going to have to fight to keep it this free and open medium.
So, that’s sort of our direction is advocacy and education. And if we need to step into the fray of an election, I mean that’s something we feel like we could do.
MICAH SIFRY: So, let me just be clear about some of the brass tacks of what you’re doing. It’s all volunteer?
EDDIE GELLER: Yeah, all volunteer.
MICAH SIFRY: And how much time would you say you’re personally spending on it?
EDDIE GELLER: It’s interesting, it sort of comes in waves so you know if we’re in the middle of something very heavy I could be spending you know, 20 hours, 30 hours a week on something. And you know, when we’re sort of off of that, it can just be, you know, just five to 10 hours a week.
And so, yeah, and we’re actually in an interesting sort of pivot phase because the original idea was we’d start with net neutrality and we’d find other issues that not specifically just the Reddit community cares about, but that is our base, but so you know we’re trying, you know to figure out where you know, what our next thing will be that we can take on and how we grow and how we move forward.
And I think it’s an interesting time for all activists with Occupy Wall Street because I think everyone is sort of waiting to see what happens with that because they’ve in a great way I think sort of sucked all the air out of the activist room – not all of it, but you know, like if you’re an activist like you it – no matter what you’re issue is I mean at least on “ours side,” if you say progressives, left wing or whatever, you know, everyone has an eye on what’s happening with Occupy Wall Street and how does that affect what our organization does. So, it’s a really interesting time.
MICAH SIFRY: Sure, that’s for sure. But just to stay on the nature of the community that you have. So, do you have members? Do you have donors? Or do you just have this kind of vague, you know community of people you know who visit your sub-Reddit and check in?
I mean, if I really – I don’t want to push you into old containers that don’t necessarily work as well as describing what this is, but I think it’s important to understand, you know, it isn’t just Eddie you know, how many regulars would you say are invested in building this? And how do you –
EDDIE GELLER: Well, I mean, that’s – and that’s a great question. So, we have – we have 2400 people on our sub-Reddit, the people who are on conference calls regularly is about half a dozen of us who are talking about like what our campaign is going to be and where we’re going.
And then you know, it is sort of like a more free-flowing thing, we do have an email list which we use but you know, Reddit is sort of our go-to. So, it can be sort of hard to gauge you know, how many people are going to be you know, actively in it because you’re sort of throwing it out there and you know, you’re campaign you know, sort of lives or dies by its meritocracy, you know according to the people on Reddit.
MICAH SIFRY: So, you’re very much using the site’s own if you will filtering tools or polling tools to judge if an idea is you know timely and interesting to people, which I think means you’re into some degree you’re bound by the sort of daily ups and downs of you know where peoples’ attention is as opposed to like okay, we’ve got a really solid organization that we can sort of work on a long-term plan. You’re more like a flash – I hate to call it a flash mob – but you know, there’s a certainly element of that and have come together when the mood is striking people but no expectation that every day is going to be like that.
EDDIE GELLER: Yeah and you know it’s still such a learning curve and learning experience for me you know, how does one use Reddit as an advocacy tool and I mean that’s obviously you know, why we’re talking right now.
But I think Reddit, it’s such an interesting thing – it’s such an interesting platform and I think as Erik was sort of speaking to, it’s just like one of many things you can use Reddit for. But I think to both its you know, to its credit and to its detriment, it does have this sort of this is what we’re excited about now or you know, we’re not as excited about this and so you don’t get as many up votes and you don’t have as much participation.
I think hopefully the place we want to get to is to be able to take the best of both worlds of having this established you know, email list, people you can count on and then you know be able to focus this surge of attention when that comes.
MICAH SIFRY: Does – in your experience so far, and you know, Erik feel free to jump in on this question, too and now I’m going to also invite people who are listening to start thinking of questions they may want to ask.
But can you think of anything, you know, experience of watching people try things. Any advice for either don’t make this mistake because you’ll just embarrass yourself on Reddit or you know, do the following things because it’s – they’re more likely to you know, hit a nerve.
EDDIE GELLER: Well I would say that you know, the – to the extent that I’ve had any success, it’s because I’ve felt that I have a decent handle on what the community is you know, likes and dislikes and I think that’s just – if you’re an activist and you want to use Reddit, you know I would definitely say you have to spend some time there and get to know the community because if you just – if you come in there and you bring something that the community would just have no interest in, you’re not going to find any success. But when you start to – you know, you spend any time there – if anyone was surfing Reddit and they’re plenty of it today, you’d realize like how much Reddit was on top of this Stop Online Piracy Act. And there was much of the internet that was on top of it and the Reddit community was as loud as anyone.
So, those are sort of like the little things like if you had an organization that was working you know, to fend off internet censorship from you know, government legislation, you would you know, stumble upon Reddit and say, oh, this is a great community for my message and I think you’d find success. And I think actually someone posted to that affect today. Like thank you for 30,000 signatures on my White House petition.
So, it’s about knowing the community I think.
MICAH SIFRY: Any tips for people who are new on like how do you get to know it?
EDDIE GELLER: I think it’s just clicking around. If – you know, just the experience of spending a week seeing what gets to the top of the politics page and what gets to the top of technology page, you start to see both the subject matter and also the tone. I mean, I think what you put as your headline can actually matter a lot and you know, how you sort of – I wish I could have something off the top of my head about specifics, but you know people respond to calls to arms and if you’re writing – you know, if you’re trying to point to your action and you’re posting on Reddit and it’s somewhat (sounds like: vanilla) petition to you know, stop the Protect IP Act, it might not get as much attention as like you know, Protect IP is going to block all these sites, we’re fighting back, you know and then link your petition.
So, it’s like you know, I think it’s like any news organization. You know, you’re sort of your own editor you know, what’s going to catch people’s attention. I think that is definitely something to keep in mind.
MICAH SIFRY: Yes.
ERIK MARTIN: The only thing true is that in general and I think in general the Reddit community does a pretty good job of basically being able to tell what’s sort of BS marketing copy even when it’s about an issue they care about and what’s you know, what a message from someone like Eddie at 2:00 in the morning when he’s had this idea (overlapping remarks) –
MICAH SIFRY: Is that the best time to push something?
ERIK MARTIN: The best time – no, the point is is that the best time to push something is when you, you know, when you can’t not talk about it, right? So, the best time to push something is when you feel so strongly that you just have to do something or feel compelled or inspired to write something.
And you know, in general the community does a pretty good job about telling the difference between that and you know, sort of –
-- you know, just, oh, we’re going to do a campaign and I you know – just, you know, they can tell when there’s actual emotion and passion behind something and when it’s you know, something that’s scripted. I mean one of the top – I’ll give you an example of kind of the – some of the you know, the difference. One of the top posts today in politics says the right to assemble is being crushed, the internet is on the verge of censorship, the legislative body of the most powerful nation in human history is about to declare pizza a vegetable, we are no longer citizens, we’re the (inaudible) in an asylum run by psychopaths and sociopaths.
So, that’s the top political post at the moment on Reddit and that wasn’t you know, it’s very colorful and compelling language and you know, I think most people agree to some or all of it, but you know, it’s not something that will be written by a professional copywriter probably.
EDDIE GELLER: Yeah, and just one last little thing, and if you’re getting to know the Reddit community, read the comments because I know that any time I even before I even read an article, oftentimes I’ll go to the comments and one of the things that I just love about Reddit and I think so many Redditors love is that Reddit is really good on the s-detection meter and often the top comment – if the article’s misleading, the top comment will be calling out how the article, the headline is misleading. And I think that gives you further insight into how the people on Reddit think.
MICAH SIFRY: Right, right, that’s very interesting. We’re going to take a pause here and see if there’s anybody who’s listening who wants to ask a question, what you need to do is hit *6 on your phone and hopefully we’ll be able to hear your question and if not, I’ll keep the conversation going. But we’ll take a pause (PAUSE), so far no questions.
So, let me ask you this: is there – Erik, in your experience, wait actually I see someone who wants to ask a question. Let’s see if I can unmute your phone.
PARTICIPANT 1: Hey Micah, it’s Rich Robbins.
MICAH SIFRY: Go, ahead.
PARTICIPANT 1: I Tweeted a question, not sure if I picked up because I stepped away for a second but do you know the demographics of people who are using Reddit?
MICAH SIFRY: Yes, it was covered, Rich.
PARTICIPANT 1: Oh, I apologize, I’m sorry.
MICAH SIFRY: Good questions pending. Okay, so let me ask you in terms of other groups like Eddie’s, Erik, I mean are you seeing a lot of this kind of spontaneous combustion happening or another way to answer this is have you seen organized groups come on to the site and succeed in kind of hitting the cord and you know, kind of resonating with the community? Or is there really something about being you know, in some ways just like Eddie, a you know, someone you’ve never heard of who’s just passionate about something?
ERIK MARTIN: Sure, so outside groups usually have success when they do something you know, remarkable. You know, they’re planning something (inaudible) communicate something, they – you know, have a new way of you know, sort of conveying information about a bill or a cause or something like that or do something you know, that really gets peoples’ attention.
As far as doing actual work on Reddit, there are some that you know, probably you know, I mean EFF probably , you know, gets a bunch of money from Redditors and all their big issues are widely discussed on Reddit, but most of the time outside (inaudible) fail miserably because they think – oh, they don’t take the time to read Reddit, they don’t really – they just want to push their message out and that’s not really what Reddit’s about so they oftentimes have problems, as so a lot of actually a lot of bloggers, even very big ones. Some of the biggest blogs and sites in the space have – are or have been banned on Reddit at one time or another for having tried to gain this system, you know?
So, we don’t care if you’re trying to gain the system to promote a cause we agree with or not if you’re – you know, if we find out people are trying to cheat to get their story out, they’re going to be banned. And we’ve done that with some outside groups, outside groups who are basically trying to gain the system to get their message, we’ve done that as well.
MICAH SIFRY: Will you say a bit more about what happens if you start a sub-Reddit and then you know, lots of people start joining, what if the person who starts that sub-Reddit, what kind of administrative powers do they have, number one. And then number two, I’ve certainly seen other sub-Reddits form below that. For example, below that you know, there’s a big Occupy Wall Street sub-Reddit, it seems to have more than 20,000 participants on it.
And then nested in that there are a variety of individual ones tied to particular cities, which is all very cool but what does it mean, you know, from an administrative side, what kind of powers do the users have and how do you make sure they’re not abusing them?
ERIK MARTIN: Sure, so we (inaudible) you create a sub-Reddit, you have the power to you know, modify it, modify the CSS, modify all the (inaudible) descriptions, you have the ability also to moderate, delete, remove any comments or any posts. And what that means, too is that you kind of have the sort of editorial or rhetorical power to say like, okay, this sub-Reddit is only for things related to you know, Illinois State politics.
Like if you submit something that is not (inaudible) politics, we’re just going to ban it not because it’s spam or you know, whatever, but it’s just – we’re going to edit it out essentially.
So, that’s a very – you know, and once those sort of, you know rhetorical or topical frameworks are established, you know, the vast majority of people stick to them, so you know, when people go to –
MICAH SIFRY: (Overlapping remarks) police them, right?
ERIK MARTIN: You do, but if you have a cognitive science sub-Reddit and say like if it’s not about cognitive you know or if it’s not about cognitive science, it’s going to be removed, you know once you kind of establish that and get it going there you’re probably not going to have too many off topic things submitted.
MICAH SIFRY: Right, right because obviously the community – it’s not like the community polices itself, there’s still an editorial role that has to – somebody’s got to do the work.
ERIK MARKTIN: There is (inaudible) a remarkably good job of policing itself, you know, once it comes to spam, when it comes to things that are off topic, when it comes to you know, we have one of the rules we have on Reddit is no sort of personal information. So, if someone posts you know, someone’s phone number of something like that or some Facebook page, it gets removed very, very quickly by just you know, kind of – we have systems in place that can help when a bunch of – you know, when a bunch of readers are (inaudible) something, that helps.
So, it’s not – you know, it needed a lot of the kind of volunteer moderators for the different sub-Reddits, it’s a ton of work, but there are kind of – the community does a lot of the heavy lifting, too. And the same with us, I mean Reddit is only – we’re about 10 people, so you know, --
MICAH SIFRY: Amazing. But just to this point, so if you’re creating – see one of the things that I was hoping to drill down a little bit further you know, that I’m learning as I listen and I think it’s worth stating explicitly you know, what Eddie did was you know, kind of a responding to a deep impulse that he felt that you know, whatever the election triggered for him it obviously triggered the same thing for a bunch of other people but if Eddie had like you know, had the flu for the next three days and not responded by creating a sub-Reddit then that moment to sort of gather the folks who most cared about you know, being politically active on Reddit, it might have passed, right? Or it might have fallen to somebody else to start it and that person had issue – or they might have cared about net neutrality or they might care more about something else and you know, it might have gone off in another direction.
So, some of this is you have to respond quickly and if you don’t then you know, the sort of people’s attention will naturally flow in other directions. Is that fair?
EDDIE GELLER: Yeah.
ERIK MARTIN: Yeah. Oh, yeah, and there’s a lot of I mean – absolutely. And there’s just also a lot of you know, little bit of chaos and randomness in all this, too. Maybe if there had been another big news story on that same day that Eddie had done that, that wouldn’t have worked out or maybe it would have taken off even more, you know? It’s very unpredictable.
MICAH SIFRY: Does it also – I mean – so we shouldn’t – if we go to the site now like – let’s say you’re a libertarian, right and you go to the site and you go to the sub-Reddit on libertarian politics. I mean, the success of that particular Reddit is partly reflection of –
-- you know, whoever the person is who started it to the degree that they’ve you know, kind of continued to garden the conversation and some of it is, you know these systems, Erik, that you guys have in place to you know, make sure that people you know, sort of stick to the ground rules of conversation on the site, right?
But it isn’t necessarily you know, the case that that’s got to be all the libertarians on Reddit are over there or anything like that.
ERIK MARTIN: Correct. In fact, you know, you know, one example of that is there are – you know, there’s a big anarchism sub-Reddit and then there’s a bunch of smaller branches and kind of off-shoots of the anarchist sub-Reddit.
So, sometimes, you know even people who all self-identify as anarchists, there are screen anarchists, so there’s anarchists of a different mindset with different, you know who think the Reddit should be about something else and they split and they link to each other or not and so yeah, we do have that.
As things get more popular you see things kind of split off or you see new things form that either (inaudible) competition because they don’t think that – and that’s the other thing, too, if you – you know, if you’re in the libertarian sub-Reddit and you think, ah, this person doesn’t really do a good job, it’s way too many kind of (inaudible) rants and not enough like real discussion or real you know, sort of policy debate, you can start your own called, you know the real libertarians or (laughter) libertarian policy debate, right?
And you know, it’s all – I was going to say and you (inaudible) so the organization and the (inaudible) there is none essentially, so it’s all organics. Some sub-Reddits choose to link to each other and some don’t so it’s all you know, these sort of linked – you know, all the links on the Occupy Wall Street sub-Reddit to all the specific you know, Occupy Chicago, Denver, etc., all those are because the moderator of Occupy Wall Street kind of put those in the side bar. It’s not an inherent connection or linkage.
MICAH SIFRY: Right. And you can have more than one moderator, right? For each sub-Reddit, you can share that role with other people?
ERIK MARTIN: Oh, yeah, some of the big ones have you know, 10 moderators and they make sure they have people in all the different time zones so if people have a question or submit – they make sure they have full coverage, which is much better than we at Reddit do sometimes, so –
MICAH SIFRY: Amazing, and a wonderful community that you’re nurturing there. Any last comments, Eddie?
EDDIE GELLER: Don’t be afraid of going to use Reddit, not that anyone’s actually afraid but it’s – one of the great things about Reddit is there’s not much to get started. You don’t have to provide any sort of identification or anything like that. You make a user name and a password and all of a sudden you’re a member of Reddit and it’s very easy to just start your own sub-Reddit so go in there and you know, if you want to use it, just go in there and play around. There’s not much slowing you down.
MICAH SIFRY: Wow, fantastic. This has been incredibly interesting. Thank you.
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