my digital nationalism

looking for Indonesia's significance on the web

Crossing the chasm and Reddit

with 5 comments

Earlier this week I posted about Reddit and posted a comment from a reddit user describing how the early reddit user base started and grew into what it is today.

Why reddit? Here are some stats:

More detailed stats can be found here.

The great thing is, they don’t generate their traffic from ads, they don’t harass users to sign-up, they don’t even offer Facebook or Twitter integration. All their traffic is generated by the community itself.

How the reddit community started and grew into mainstream popularity to me is a textbook example of the crossing the chasm strategy in practice.

What is the crossing the chasm strategy?

Crossing the chasm was first introduced by Geoffrey Moore, a tech marketing thinker and strategist, back in 1991. The main premise of his theory is that when you introduce a new product into the market, where you want to go eventually is have your product accepted by the mainstream market. But in order to do that, there is wide gap (chasm) that we must cross between the early market, the people who first use your products, and the mainstream, which is everybody else. Crossing the chasm offers a strategic framework we can use to help bridge this canyon and bring your product to the mainstream.

The strategic framework offered, in very simplistic terms, is this:

  1. Target point of attack
  2. Assemble an invasion force
  3. Define the battle
  4. Launch the invasion

Let’s go through this point by point

1. Target point of attack

The key here is start small and focus on a niche. When the US invaded europe in WWII hey focused on one point, Normandy, and this is kind of the idea. What you want is to start small and establish a stronghold. When reddit launched back in 2005 they focused on

..techie geeks that were into obscure programming languages. At the time, Reddit was written in Lisp, which was its main claim to fame.

They even first announced the site to a newsgroup dedicated to lisp, comp.lisp.lang. So early in the lifecycle of the product the founders had a clear idea of who they were targetting.

2. Assemble an invasion force

Now this sentence sounds grand, but what it really means is that you have to have the whole product ready, meaning you have the core product working and have everything else that is needed to support the product and make sure it functions as planned. I may add that at this stage it is imperative that the product doesn’t suck.

Reddit had the basic mechanic of up voting and down voting user submissions in place. They had added a new comment feature which facilitated discussion between users. Another key in what they did was the founders where very responsive. Here is an example of how responsive they were:

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.

This responsiveness allowed them to adress what the users needed directly and gradually improve the product and user experience over time.

3. Define the Battle

The key here is that it is important to early on define who you are and what you want to be. At the time reddit started there was already a number of existing social bookmarking sites that did similar things such as Digg.com and slashdot.

Reddit stayed true to its roots as a place where techie geeks can group together, as opposed to Digg.com which went on to sell out and display ads to drive traffic (the rise and fall of Digg on the internet is in itself an interesting topic I might get into in another time). Even up to this day reddit refuses to show ads on its site, and in the age of social media integration still has no option to integrate with Facebook or Twitter. This consistent and clear cut message of what Reddit was gained them credibility in users eyes and grow a loyal user base and community that drives traffic to the site today.

4. Launch the invasion

According to the crossing the chasm theory at this stage in order to cross to the mainstream we need to dedicate a direct sales force to push our product to the masses, winning sales one person at a time. This is the most expensive way to sell something, but it was thought of as the only way to cross the chasm. I will argue that reddit had none of this. Instead their loyal user base became what other companies dream of having, loyal users who become a loyal sales force, selling the product to everybody they talk to. The product was so cool, people couldn’t but help to talk about it.

Because of these steps, reddit grew from an obscure website nobody knew of to become one of the largest and most influential communities on the internet today. So there we have it, the growth of reddit explained (very simplistically) using the crossing the chasm framework.

Before I go, here is a timeline infographic about Reddit’s growth from Sortable.com. Enjoy!

Reddit History
Sortable’s The Reddit Invasion

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Written by randomwalls

March 22, 2012 at 5:41 am

5 Responses

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  1. This was all after Aaron Swartz and Infogami, right?

    lemi4

    March 22, 2012 at 5:57 am

    • I’m not sure what you are referring to man 😀

      randomwalls

      March 22, 2012 at 6:17 am

      • oh ok a quick google search enlightened me…yes I believe so, the whole Infogami thing was way back in 2006. The point of my post is more of trying to make sense of how the site grew, using the chasm framework.

        randomwalls

        March 22, 2012 at 6:28 am

  2. Thanks for the interesting post. I like the way you tied Geoffrey Moore’s http://www.geoffreyamoore.com book Crossing the Chasm into the rise of Reddit. Good stuff!

    Rick S.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    • I loved crossing the chasm and I’m also a fan of Reddit, after learning how reddit grew the connection between the two became obvious. I haven’t read any other works by Moore though, I should look them up. Thanks for the comment!

      randomwalls

      March 29, 2012 at 2:21 am


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