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!”
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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.
There’s a growing cynicism on the internet that rears its head whenever a beloved software product releases some kind of update. The platform debuts new features with grand claims of how it’s improving design and user experience while also launching a bevy of new tools, but no matter how innovative those updates are, an angry and very loud chorus of users will decry the changes, not only voicing their displeasure but ascribing the software company’s moves as stemming from greed and an outright hatred of its users. I still remember the day the Facebook newsfeed — now considered an integral feature of the social network — appeared with great fanfare, and within 24 hours a group demanding its removal had gathered over a million members. Could you imagine what Facebook would be like today if it had kowtowed to these demands and you’d need to visit individual pages in order to see new updates?
A particularly vehement barrage of ire has been directed at Twitter as of late as it has rolled out several changes that have the potential to vastly transform the user experience on the platform. As Mathew Ingram details in Gigaom, the latest iteration that has caused outrage is a new feature called “while you were away.” Twitter, unlike Facebook, displays a raw feed of reverse chronological tweets, and anyone who has used the platform knows that any tweets that appear there while you’re not logged in and reading them are quickly buried under an avalanche of new tweets, thereby ensuring that the vast majority of the content published by those you follow will never be seen. “While you were away” seeks to surface what Twitter deems as the most important tweets you missed while you were logged out.
Many critics have interpreted these moves not as an attempt to improve the user experience, but a greedy decision on Twitter’s part to hold content hostage and force brands to pay up to have their tweets seen by their followers, just as Facebook charges pages in order to display their updates to a larger percentage of their fans. But as Ingram explains, “the point behind such enhancements is that Twitter wants to improve the utility for certain users, primarily the ones who only dip into their timeline now and then, and want to see something useful or interesting.”
It’s simply incorrect to think of a platform’s users as a single bloc, but rather there are several levels of users based on frequency of use and familiarity with the platform, and Twitter’s moves represent the delicate balance every social network faces as it achieves mainstream success and must generalize its offerings in order to appeal to a wider base of consumers. On the one side you have the power users, those who have invested hundreds of hours into the tool and who know its lingua franca (“hashtags”; “subtweet”) and its quirks, and on the other you have the more casual drive-by users who may find this network with its insider lingo impenetrable and of little recognizable value. I recently found myself trying to onboard my father onto Twitter, and I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to explain the functionality of what I had until then assumed were relatively straightforward tools. As I watched his eyes glaze over while I tried to explain how you can reply to another person or retweet his tweet into your own stream, I realized the gargantuan hurdle Twitter faces when it tries to appeal to people like my dad.
There’s a problem that Twitter and other social networks face when they try to appeal to these more casual users, however, in that if they take it too far they risk alienating their strongest evangelists. Case in point: Digg.com. When it launched in the mid-2000s it mainly appealed to a tech-savvy audience, but as it grew in importance, attracting hundreds of millions of monthly visitors and sending thousands of clicks to any link posted to its front page, a divisive war broke out between the power Diggers, who believed they were the ones who made Digg so great, and those who were annoyed that the vast majority of front page posts were submitted by a tiny minority of users. It had become apparent to nearly everyone that if you didn’t spend nearly your entire day trading quid pro quo upvotes (or “diggs”) with other power users then anything you submitted would die on the vine before being featured on the front page.
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Digg’s engineers faced a dilemma. If they catered to the power users then they risked relegating the network as a niche product, but if it tried to level the playing field then it risked pissing off the very people who had helped build its power and influence. In the end, it went with the latter option, installing all sorts of restrictions that penalized users who tried to digg too many posts in a short period of time while issuing outright bans against some of the biggest players on the network. The final deathblow to the power users came when it rolled out an update in which users could subscribe to RSS feeds for publications, thereby allowing news companies to bypass the power users completely and attempt to market their content directly to Digg’s huge audience. But the move backfired, and within days users began abandoning Digg by the thousands. Within just a few years it was assumed to be nearly worthless and it was sold for scraps to Betaworks for a measly $500,000.
Point to any successful community platform on the web and you’ll find a war brewing between its most devoted users and those trying to edge their way in. For years now Wikipedia has been facing a decrease in the overall number of users who actually edit articles, and many attribute this to stringent rules enforced by entrenched longtime admins and editors who have been unwelcoming to new users, bogging down the encyclopedia with so many rules and regulations that no new editor would find it worth the time to learn them. Some of the fiercest battles of late have occurred on Reddit, where users have grown angry at what they consider to be power-hungry moderators who have installed anti-democratic restrictions on what can be posted to the most popular subreddits.
In each of these cases, the company that’s built the platform must act as referee, installing software updates and making administrative decisions that mediate the conflicts between the power users and the more casual adopters. It’s a delicate balance to strike, but no matter how nuanced its changes there will always be a vocal subset of users waiting to lash out the moment they feel their power and influence has been degraded. The challenge — and it’s a daunting one — is knowing when to heed their threats of mass exodus and when to ignore them. As Twitter continues to battle a rising group of social networks competing for consumers’ finite time and resources, it must tread carefully, lest it drive away the very early adopters that made it a household name.
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Image via Still Curtain
Up until a little over a month ago, Kathleen Mandt had never spent any significant amount of time on Reddit. Mandt, an earth and planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, had heard of the social news site, but only because her teenage son “mostly lives on Reddit.” She received a crash course, however, when a press release summarizing a recent paper she’d published was submitted to r/science, a thriving community on Reddit with over six million subscribers. “A coworker told me about it,” she recalled in a phone interview. “So my son sat me down, signed me up for Reddit, and I started answering questions about the paper itself.” It was while she was answering those questions that a Redditor suggested in the thread that Mandt sign up for an official AMA. “So then I had my son sit down and sign me up for an AMA.”
Short for “ask me anything,” AMAs are a bedrock of the Reddit community, so much so that a subreddit devoted to them is one of the most popular on the site. The concept is somewhat self explanatory: A person with some kind of interesting experience offers himself up to the Reddit community, promising to answer any question that is asked of him. As I write this, a thread titled, “IamA survivor of Stalin’s dictatorship. My father was executed by the secret police and my family became ‘enemies of the people’. We fled the Soviet Union at the end of WWII. Ask me anything” has over a thousand comments, more questions than any one person could answer in a single sitting. In true Reddit fashion, the questions with the most upvotes float to the top, so the popular questions are usually the ones the participants answer.
The IAmA subreddit became so popular that it eventually caught the eye of publicists and became a pitstop for any celebrity on a press tour looking to promote a new project. Suddenly you had superstars like George Clooney and Louis CK stopping by to answer questions. An AMA with President Barack Obama, conducted just before the 2012 elections, drew so much attention that the site temporarily crashed under all the traffic.
Something happened once celebrities began to flock to IAmA, however: It became more difficult for non celebrities to get much attention, even when those non celebrities had something particularly unique to share. Nathan Allen, a mod for r/science and r/askscience (mods are volunteers who police subreddits and have administrative powers), noticed this discouraging trend whenever he’d see scientists try to conduct AMAs. “If you go through and arrange an AMA for a member of the National Academies of Sciences,” he said in a phone interview, “and you do a lot of work to prep him for the AMA, and then George Clooney posts an AMA on the same day, the [scientist’s AMA] gets buried, and these people don’t get any visibility even though it’s really important and the general public needs to have access to it.”
So Allen, a PhD chemist who works for the Dow Chemical Company in Pennsylvania, began to think about ways he could leverage r/science’s massive reach to connect scientists to the general public. R/science is a default subreddit, meaning it’s visible to people visiting Reddit.com even if they aren’t logged in. According to internal metrics Allen has access to, r/science gets between 30,000 and 100,000 unique visitors a day; it’s arguably the largest community-run science forum on the internet. So what if r/science were to form an AMA series of its own, focused solely on working scientists who are producing interesting, groundbreaking research?
Starting in January, r/science officially launched its Science AMA series, and very quickly you had scientists not widely known to those outside their fields answering questions on the front page of a site that is visited by 114 million people a month. Virtually overnight, Reddit had created the world’s largest two-way dialogue between scientists and the general public. “Of course you can talk about the large audience when scientists go on TV,” said Allen. “But is that really an interaction?” Usually, those scientists who you’ll regularly see on cable news or the Daily Show are among a small group of pop culture celebrities, like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye the Science Guy. “You have the pop culture scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson, who’s doing a good job of communicating science, but he’s not publishing a lot of scientific papers,” Allen argued. “His role is more science communication, but he’s not so much a practicing scientist who goes out and has ongoing research projects and is doing the nuts and bolts of science.”
For the mods, the two-way conversation was as equally important as the sheer reach of the AMAs. “Really the only way people get to find out about new research is if they have journal access or if they read the shortform news story that can be skewed by whatever journalist is covering it,” said Chris Dawson, another r/science mod. “If you had questions about the study then there wasn’t a good way to get them answered, and now you can.”
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There has been a longstanding criticism against science journalism, particularly its penchant for histrionically magnifying the scope of the results in such a way that misleads the public into thinking a much more monumental discovery has been made. “The general public won’t catch ‘may,’ ‘could,’ or ‘potentially,’” noted Allen. “They just skim over that, and then that’s why they think there are cancer cures every week, because they see reports of early phase academic studies on something that fights cancer in a petri dish. And though this could be the mechanisms in which a cancer treatment could be provided 30 years from now, the general public reads this as, ‘Oh there’s a cure for cancer.’” While the Science AMAs aren’t a panacea for misinformation, by giving the public access to the scientists themselves, Allen hopes to eliminate at least some of the impact of sensationalized journalism.
Since launching, Science AMAs have been conducted up to five times a week, though never more than one a day. The brunt of the labor of organizing each one falls on Allen’s shoulders; he not only conducts most of the outreach to solicit participation, but also walks them through the entire process of conducting an AMA, from creating an account to crafting the headline so it’ll have a wide appeal to Reddit’s userbase. “The problem we encounter is that it turns out big name scientists aren’t big redditors,” he said. “Their grad students may be, but they are not. Typically, big name scientists are in their late 40s, 50s, 60s — they’re a different generation and don’t really have a natural inclination to post in social media.” Much of his outreach involves a simple cold call or email to the scientist; armed with r/science’s web traffic statistics, it’s not difficult to convince a top tier researcher of the AMA’s value. Gradually, however, the PR departments within universities have begun to notice the series and, wanting to generate publicity for their own faculty, started reaching out to Allen to schedule AMAs.
That’s what happened with Peggy Mason, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago who studies empathy in rats. Kevin Jiang, a communications specialist at the university, approached her several months ago to pitch her on conducting an AMA. “It was just as I was about to start teaching a MOOC” — short for Massive Open Online Course — “We were thinking let’s try to publicize this whole thing. And so we pitched it, and Reddit was really easy to work with.We went back and forth and they said what the blurb should say and how short it should be. They also told me to make sure to set aside a lot of time that day. It was a complete trip. It was so much fun.”
Within minutes after Mason’s AMA was posted, dozens of questions began to flood the thread. Most of the redditors asked questions pertaining to what was mentioned in the short blurb describing her work and few referenced her published research in scholarly journals — a sign that this was mostly a layman audience who merely sought to slake their random curiosities rather than engage in rigorous scientific discussion. Mason was asked questions ranging from whether rats mourned the death of other rats to if sociopathy exists in other mammals besides humans. “For me it was an exciting and fun conversation about something I love, even if it wasn’t questions on the one particular subject that I had published on most recently,” Kathleen Mandt said of her AMA.
But with a large audience comes great responsibility. We’ve seen the devastating impact of what happens when bad science creeps into the national conversation. Recent measles outbreaks, for instance, have been wholly attributed to the pseudoscientific claims propagated by the anti-vaccination crowd. Nathan Allen was forced to consider his criteria for vetting AMA candidates when he was approached by Paul Héroux, a physicist at McGill University. “We knew going in that it was going to be controversial,” Allen told me. “He holds that electromagnetic radiation from electronic equipment has health effects and can affect the metabolism of cells. This isn’t a generally accepted view, in fact . But the guy is still a legitimate professor at McGill University. It’s a very good school. It’s called the Harvard of Canada, and he’s a tenured professor there.”
But were those accomplishments enough to warrant Allen giving Héroux access to such a massive viewership? “I don’t want to be in the business of deciding what’s a fringe idea and what’s mainstream,” he said. “That’s against the basic philosophy of Reddit. So I made the decision that, ok, this guy has a fringe idea, and we have a bunch of verified scientists [who frequent r/science]. This guy speaks for himself. He can get up to the mic and answer questions. If he can defend his answers, then we’ll let the community decide whether or not he’s fringe.”
Héroux posted his AMA about a month ago, and what followed in the subsequent hours was about as close as you can come to a bloodbath in a wonky, jargon-laden scientific discussion on the internet. Reading it now, the first thing that strikes you is that Héroux avoided answering many of the questions that were upvoted to the top of the thread, a heterodox faux pas in a community that’s rooted firmly in the wisdom of crowds. A cadre of biochemists flocked to the AMA and, after reviewing the scientist’s research, began to dissect his findings to such a technical and abstruse degree that a layman like me couldn’t even begin to discern the validity of their arguments. “Having read some of your paper, I have to say that your conclusions seem like a serious stretch from the evidence,” wrote one redditor. “I find it a bit odd that you think it appropriate to bring your results to a public forum like reddit at this stage. No offense, but your actions strike me as having political intent.”
Whenever Héroux did respond, it was often in a vague, evasive manner that avoided addressing the specifics of his challengers’ questions. Several of his answers yielded negative upvotes, a sign that the Reddit community had turned against him. “I think the important lesson here is that the general public gets to see that scientists have different opinions,” said Allen. “They get to see how scientists are critical of other scientists. They get to see what peer review looks like in a real sense — what sort of minutia is going on. They get to see the actual mechanism of science going on. The comments that were in that thread would not be out of line in any comments you’d get in an anonymous peer-reviewed journal.”
Reading through the dozens of science AMAs that have been conducted on Reddit, it seems evident that r/science is fulfilling a need that may have been previously unforeseen by the scientific community of researchers who spend years toiling in obscurity, testing and retesting their hypotheses so that one day their hard work may see the light of day in the form of a journal article. In a world where scholarly journals are often frustratingly difficult to access by the general public, there remains a demand in the market for a way to remove the friction between scientists and non scientists. With the rise of MOOCs and other discussion tools like Reddit, science communication is transcending its heretofore gatekeepers. “My personal belief, in the end, is that scientists really work for the people,” said Mason. “We’re allowed to follow our intellectual curiosity insomuch as we share it with other human beings.” With six months of AMAs and thousands of questions uploaded, Reddit’s Science AMA series seems to have brought us significantly closer to that goal.
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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.