It’s hard to blame Kameron Hurley for her wariness of Reddit prior to joining it. When non-users hear about the site, it’s often within the context of some recent controversy that originated in one of its communities. As a writer who often blogs about feminist and progressive issues, Hurley is likely aware that Reddit once hosted message boards known for posting images of underage girls and that it serves as a popular watering hole for the misogynist “men’s rights” and Gamergate movements. “I generally would stay away from Reddit,” she told me in a phone interview. “I wrote a book called The Geek Feminist Revolution, and Reddit is not known as a nice and happy loving place.”
William Berry always knew he wanted to work in entertainment. For years, he had aspirations to have a career as a professional wrestler and even began to train for it, but the wrestling scene in Seattle, the city where he’d grown up, was small. There was, however, a strong local hip-hop community, with artists like Macklemore, Grieves, Blue Scholars, and Grayskul reaching national fame, and in the early 2000s Berry found himself working behind the scenes at recording studios and live events. “I wasn’t really trying to be another white rapper,” he told me recently. “I was working with all these guys and we’d go out to these shows and then people started getting me in on their songs because they thought I was funny. It was just something I enjoyed, so I went with it.” Continue reading
The Public Library of Science, the academic publisher more commonly known as PLOS, doesn’t lack for media coverage. Launched in the early 2000s, PLOS was one of the pioneers in what’s called open access scholarly publishing. For decades, the scholarly journal industry has been coalescing into a handful of behemoth corporate entities who have leveraged their clout to raise subscription fees and force university library budgets into the millions of dollars. PLOS, through the launch of seven journals ranging from PLOS Biology to PLOS Genetics, operates under the overarching principle that access to its articles should be completely free, and its staff has made every effort to ease the mode of discovery for the science it publishes. And it’s been rewarded for those efforts; in a little over a decade it has become one of the highest impact scholarly publishers, with many of its articles generating national headlines. A quick search on Google News reveals that, in just the last week, thousands of mainstream news articles have referenced its work.
But someone like Victoria Costello, who is the senior social media and community editor of all of PLOS, knows the company isn’t adhering to its open access ethos if it’s merely penetrating the traditional media. So she spends a fair amount of time thinking about how to leverage online communities to generate interest in PLOS articles, even if it means bringing the scientists who penned the articles directly to those communities. And that’s how she found herself emailing one day with a moderator at Reddit, which through its r/science subreddit hosts one of the largest science-focused forums on the internet. “I think that we have become increasingly aware of how many of our readers and authors are regular redditors and follow r/science in particular,” Costello told me in a phone interview. “We also noticed that whenever one of our articles or blog posts lands on that page and gets upvoted, we have enormous spikes in visits. On more than one occasion it’s caused our entire site to crash.”
Last year, I profiled r/science’s launch of a regular Science AMA series. Short for “ask me anything,” AMAs have been a major bedrock of the Reddit community for years, allowing everyday users to interview A-list celebrities and even world leaders (Barack Obama’s 2012 AMA was so popular it temporarily broke the website). Launched by Nathan Allen, a longtime moderator — or mod — for r/science, the Science AMA series was geared toward inviting in some of the world’s most highly-regarded scientists to take questions from the Reddit masses. With its subscribership of over 8 million redditors, r/science provided these scientists with a mode of one-to-one interaction they had never before experienced, thereby allowing them to further bridge the science communication divide.
These AMAs didn’t go unnoticed in the larger scientific community, least of all by Costello. She reached out to Allen earlier this year, and through their back-and-forth conversations they decided to launch what would be called PLOS Science Wednesdays (a wink wink reference to public radio’s Science Friday), a weekly AMA that would feature a scientist who had recently been published in a PLOS journal. The first of these debuted a little over two months ago, and about a dozen total have been held since then. “I think a lot of scientists certainly feel that they’re very concerned about the disconnect in science when it comes to the larger issues,” she said, citing widely-held misconceptions about GMOs and climate science. “We’ve sort of taken it on that we need to do a better of job of putting the science out there.”
It seems clear the r/science community has been largely receptive to the series. Reading through the PLOS Science Wednesday discussions, I was struck by the range of expertise that could be found in a single question-and-answer thread. In an AMA with Tom Baden and Andre Maia Chagas, two neuroscience researchers who developed laboratory equipment using 3D printers, one of the top-voted comments came from a grad student in neuroscience and chemical biology; he or she asked a question to such specificity and science-based expertise that a non-scientist would struggle to understand the question, much less know the answer. But then just a few comments down from that a user called glioblastomas asked a much broader question that wouldn’t require any specialized proficiency for those following along.
Andrew Farke, a paleontologist whose paper published in PLOS ONE last year documented the discovery of a new dinosaur, found that the questions asked to him in his AMA were easily palatable for a general audience. “The sense I got from the questions was that most [of the participants] were fairly dinosaur interested but not necessarily experts,” he told me in a phone interview. “There were a few folks who I knew from their screen names were colleagues who decided to drop in and contribute, but for the most part it was people who were science savvy but not really scientists themselves.”
Though Reddit had been on Farke’s radar for quite some time, he didn’t really consider himself a redditor, nor did he have a user account prior to his AMA. But the r/science mods and Costello had put together an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to use the site, and he found the process fairly easy to grasp. Within minutes, questions were flowing in, and his main challenge was choosing the order in which to tackle them. “Questions that got lots of upvotes, those were the ones I would target first,” he said. “It was nice because there weren’t so many posts that I couldn’t answer most of them within the allotted time window. There was some triaging of questions, determining whether a question was actually answerable, or at least asked in good faith. Most of them were.”
I asked Farke to compare his experience with, say, getting his study covered in the New York Times. His response:
The thing that’s really nice about [the AMA] is it provides access to working scientists by people who don’t necessarily have that access. There’s a long tradition with museums and universities where you can go to a talk and you can ask some questions at the end of it, and that’s good if you live in a university town close to a museum, but there are a lot of people for whatever reason who don’t necessarily have that … It’s not exactly the equivalent of having your research on the front page of the New York Times, that’s obviously different. But it does make [the research] more visible, and gives a chance for people who really want to engage with science to engage with it in a way that’s a little more personal than what’s offered by a newspaper article or a blog post.
Getting coverage in the mainstream press and on forums like Reddit has a much broader utility than simply informing the public. “If a study is written about in the Huffington Post, other scientists who happen to be reading the [news article] are going to find out about it,” said Costello. “And given the number of new papers, 2 million a year, this is really helping people find each other who want to collaborate and catch up on new science.”
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According to numbers supplied to Costello by Reddit mods, the first PLOS Science Wednesday generated 172,000 views within the Reddit thread, and the two subsequent AMAs amassed around 72,000 (the initial spike was likely due to the novelty of the series). She’s also noticed downstream effects; one of the scientists who participated saw a spike of between 1,000 and 2,000 new visitors to his blog. “Of course a smaller number go back to the article,” she said. “But it’s a significant number of readers, and it’s also a quantity, not quality, thing when it comes to actually bringing other scientists here to read papers. There’s nothing more important than having a scientist’s peers read his paper.”
Of course, it’s difficult to put such large numbers in perspective. In a world where social networks are collecting hundreds of millions of users, one can be forgiven if you become desensitized and lose sight of what it all means. Costello told me that she only really processed the impact when one of the scientists who partook in an AMA sent her this photo of a sports stadium:
“For comparison, this stadium, when full, has fewer people,” wrote the scientist. “Normally when I give a talk it is to 20-80 people…at a conference perhaps a few hundred. The internet certainly changes the scale of things!”
FULL DISCLOSURE: Want to know how I was paid to write this article? I explain it in this video.
Some of the most influential people on the internet are largely anonymous and have been repeatedly accused of abusing their power. In a new article published at the Daily Dot I give you an in-depth look into the world of Reddit’s most powerful moderators.
Reddit, which bills itself as the “front page of the Internet,” is arguably just that. Roughly 168 million people visited the social news site last month, and many of its most popular subreddits have as many as 8 million subscribers each. Reddit’s reach and influence over the Internet is profound and pervasive. But despite recent structural changes, an in-depth look at the role of the site’s moderators reveals a community nearing crisis, with a constant battle for quality control and power taking place behind the scenes and threatening the site’s democratic ideals.
Over at AskReddit, foodchains asked, “Homeschoolers of Reddit, what is your best culture shock moment?”
Here are some of the best answers:
Short Shorts. Growing up every girl I met wore knee length shorts and I thought the super short ones were just something in movies. First day of highschool I learned I was wrong
The day I wore a pink cheetah-print sweatsuit, all-white sneakers, and a High School Musical T-shirt to school, and didn’t understand why people were laughing. I had no concept of “cool clothes,” or even “socially acceptable clothes.” I was homeschooled from 3rd through 6th grade, and had just moved cross-country from a very small town (I was 13 when this happened). I also didn’t know how to open a locker. I’m still a bit odd, but a lot better adjusted.
I was suprised by the fact that guys and girls talked to each other a lot just as friends. My parents were (and still are) the type of people who believed that all guys want is sex and all girls want is protection, so I was always nervous around guys in general before realizing that it was bullshit, and that I wasn’t a freak for wanting sex. I still get anxious when talking about crushes because it was never something I did as a younger kid. Also dances are confusing as hell.
For me it was dissent. Just the concept that you were allowed to disagree with something. For me everything was presented in a black and white, a good or evil, when I got to college everything was a sea of gray.
And finally, this sad tale from skylarmb
A girl who was recovering from cancer joined my highschool class in 11th grade. She had never been to a real school before as she had been hospitalized from a very young age (6 or 8?). We really felt bad for her and took her in as best we could as we were a small class full of very nice people. Within the first day at our school it was apparent she had the social maturity of an 8 year old. She wasn’t mentally handicapped, she had just never interacted with people before other than her parents.
Now the culture shock part. She was super spoiled by her parents so when she came to school she treated us like she treated her parents. At lunch if she saw something she liked that someone had packed in their lunch, she simply demanded it. Out of fear or pity, most kids just gave it to her. We talked among ourselves and decided that we needed to just say no as it was just making the situation worse by spoiling her more. So at lunch we started saying
“No, you cannot have my food. I brought this, and if I give it to you I will not have anything to eat.”
The first time someone said this, she just stood there in shock. She looked like it was the first time someone ever told her no. She instantly freaked out and started screaming and crying. She had to be picked up by her parents.
This wasn’t the only incident, just the most memorable.
This was MANY years ago, but last I heard she was going to do some social skills rehabilitation or something to get her ready to be around other people her age before going back to a school.
Recode’s Mike Isaac sat down with Reddit execs Jena Donlin and Ellen Pao to chat about the site’s attempt at monetization. For some time Reddit has been running an experiment with Reddit Gold, a way for users to subscribe to the site for some added features (users are able to gift Gold to other users, usually when someone has made an insightful comment that another user wants to reward). But is it making any meaningful impact on revenue?
I think Reddit Gold is really fascinating in terms of how people use it on the site, and how you’re creating value. I see strangers gift Gold to others anonymously all the time.
Donlin: It’s a lot about good will, as you said. People are really excited about Reddit. They use it a lot and understand that it’s a free service and they would love to see Reddit succeed so they contribute to express their love for Reddit. It’s great.
Pao: People like to reward people who have great comments. So in addition to rewarding Reddit, a person may have had this great experience that they shared, or wrote something really personal, or did something really positive. So another Redditor may want to reward that person, and the easiest way to do that is with Gold on Reddit.
Thus far, it’s been a largely symbolic gesture, as far as I can tell. What else does Gold do?
Donlin: You also get Gold benefits which are special deals corporations offer only to Gold users and some of them are really great. So UPS, Beta Brand, Uber, Lyft, for instance.
Pao: A big thing for us here is that it has to be brands where there’s strong customer service. We want everyone to have the same experience as if we were running the service.
I wonder about how reliable Gold is as a revenue stream, especially if it rests largely on good will.
Donlin: Yeah. It’s a subscription service, so the goal is to find really loyal users who are willing to renew. And if we can’t make it exciting for them to have this good will to renew every month, then we’ve got to keep working on it.