Reddit's latest issue: Losing sight of people
Over the weekend, parts of social community website Reddit became inaccessible, with moderators turning hundreds of subreddits – essentially forums for various communities – private, keeping their content from being read by users.
The act of protest had mostly abated within a day or two, leaving Reddit mostly back to the status quo by Monday, July 6.
The fact remains that this was a significant event in Reddit history.
It was one large misstep that Reddit and, perhaps, other people should learn from rather than manage and move from quietly.
Reddit? What's that?
Reddit is a big thing. With more than 160 million monthly visitors, it is steadily one of the top 50 most visited websites in the world.
Users can sign up for an account to become a Redditor, then find a subreddit that suits their fields of interest and read up and post about their favorite topics, with content and links submitted by other Redditors.
One of their most famous subreddits, /r/IAmA, is a question-and-answer subreddit, with people of varying walks of life, from celebrities to a member of the French Foreign Legion, answering questions from Redditors.
The moderators of IAmA are helped by Reddit staff, with one high-ranking member of the site's administrators, Victoria Taylor, normally being the point person for all things related to "ask me anything" sessions, from planning to coordination, to execution.
One of the glaring issues behind what happened was that very few exactly know the circumstances behind everything.
The protests started on /r/IAmA when Victoria Taylor was let go from Reddit suddenly. By suddenly, I mean, "every Ask me Anything session planned for the next few weeks on every subreddit she helps is thrown into chaos" suddenly.
With volunteer moderators on /r/IAmA and other subreddits relying on Taylor to keep things in check, her sudden, unexplained loss was painful.
What made it worse was that no one could adequately explain why she was being let go and what steps were being taken to remedy everything.
Some speculated that it was because of a bad session with Rev. Jesse Jackson, where Jackson did not field questions from critics or responded with unrelated statements.
For instance, in answering the question, "My question is simple; how is your relationship with the illegitimate child you fathered in 1998 while cheating on your wife? Bonus question: How much money have you extorted from various people and companies over the years of practicing your shakedown scheme? Do you think Al Capone would be jealous of your business model if he were still alive?"
He responded this way:
Others said Taylor was let go because she didn't want to move locations.
Over on Quora, a now-deleted post (hat tip to Gawker for the screenshot) surmised that Taylor was against certain commercial actions around Ask Me Anything sessions, which then led to Reddit's higher-ups looking for someone more agreeable.
As a result of all this, the /r/IAmA subreddit went private, with other major and minor subreddits, everything from /r/science and /r/books to /r/electronic_cigarette, following suit for varying lengths of time.
Learning from protest
If anything, I think Reddit's paid staff – CEOs and founders included – should want to learn from the mistakes of the past weekend.
For one thing, it stands to reason that a front-facing company like Reddit should treat its users (and its workers) with respect, especially when they're asking for information that is important for the whole wellbeing of the site. With one proper, honest, explanation, most of this could have been avoided.
Failing to understand "the depth of the frustration," as founder Alexis Ohanian (Kn0thing) wrote in one of his edits to an off-hand reply, is a surefire way to make everyone feel bad about a situation.
One other thing that they lost sight of, in my opinion, was the importance of having someone like Victoria Taylor as a unifying force for the community at large.
I can understand if they wanted to bring more people into the system to help manage everything so that ask me anything sessions could be future-proofed, but the abrupt exit, by itself seems like such a shame.
Reddit has never been perfect. Inasmuch as it's a harmless place to get useless love advice and philosophical conversations, it's also fertile soil for craziness.
This latest round of protests on Reddit and its subsequent media coverage are proof of how large a force the site is now.
Hopefully we'll be able to get Victoria back on to help with things, but if not, here's to one other hope: That Reddit's higher-ups know how to steer Ask Me Anything back from infamy to popularity, preferably with another grand smash AMA like that of US President Barack Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders. – Rappler.com