my digital nationalism

looking for Indonesia's significance on the web

The early days of Reddit

leave a comment » , I think, is one of the most interesting communities on the internet.

I can’t remember when I first discovered reddit, maybe around 2005-2006, but I do remember that it changed how I browse the internet. When I got online that means that I would be browsing reddit.

Now I work in digital media and I am interested in how online communities grow and evolve.

While browsing today I found a comment from reddit user nostradaemons that gives insight on how the reddit community started and evolved into what it is today:

Showed up the day Reddit opened (Jul 2005), thought it was kinda interesting but not interesting enough to keep coming back, figured it’d never catch on. Came back for real a couple months later (Oct 2005), and stayed.

At the very beginning, there were no comments or self-posts: it was only links, with voting. And the only people posting those links were spez, kn0thing, PG, and spez’s girlfriend.

The initial userbase was very tech-heavy. The initial announcement went out to comp.lang.lisp, so the initial user population consisted largely of techie geeks that were into obscure programming languages. At the time, Reddit was written in Lisp, which was its main claim to fame.

When I came back in October, comments had been added, which was the “killer feature” that made me decide to stay. The userbase at the time was perhaps in the low hundreds – a popular submission was one that had about 10ish votes, like this one does now. It was small enough that you’d see the same names posting over and over again; you could get a sense of people’s personalities over time from their posts.

Comments were longer, more intellectual, and more in-depth. The culture was actually a lot like Hacker News is now, which makes sense, since a lot of the early Reddit users migrated over to there when it started (I was a first-day user of Hacker News as well).

The founders were very responsive. There used to be a “feedback” link right at the top that would go straight to their GMail accounts. I remember sending kn0thing a couple bug reports; he got back to me within a half hour with “hey, could you give us more details? we’re working on it”, and then a couple hours later was like “It’s fixed. Try now.” Then I’d send him back another e-mail saying “It’s better, but you still don’t handle this case correctly”, and he was like “Oops. Try now.” Back then, spez would edit the live site directly, so changes were immediately available to all users.

For the first couple years, the submission process would try to auto-detect the title of submissions by going out and crawling the page. Presumably they got rid of that when they moved to multiple servers, as it’s hard to manage a stateful interaction like that.

I started seeing pun threads in I think mid-2006; actually, I recall creating some of the first ones I saw. That actually was when the culture of the site started changing, going much more mainstream and much less techie. The userbase was growing by leaps and bounds, and we started getting more funny cat pics on the front page. I think this was right around the time of the Conde Nast acquisition.

There were also plenty of in-jokes, eg. the “Paul Graham Ate Breakfast” meme. That happened because people were complaining that anything written by or relating to Paul Graham got upvoted far beyond what should be fair, and so somebody decided to create a link to prove that point.

The first subreddit was It was created basically out of user revolt. A core group of early users complained loudly and vocally about how the front page was taken over by lolcatz and funny animated gifs and thought-provoking submissions would get buried, and so a couple subreddits (programming and I think science) were created for the intellectual stuff.

Subreddits at the time were admin-created only. IMHO, user-created subreddits saved Reddit; the community was getting far too unwieldy by 2007, and so the only way for it to survive was to fragment. I remember seeing the first user-created subreddits and thinking “finally!”.

I’ve got a bunch of memories of specific Reddit users or events as well, but I think that’s enough for now…

The original post on reddit can be viewed here.

So what then? What lessons can be learned from this? Now that will be the topic of my next post!



Written by randomwalls

March 21, 2012 at 3:54 am

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