Reddit rebellion and the issue of community commercialization

Original author: Sam Gerstenzang
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The recent riot on Reddit has subsided, but has not ended. The history of protests in online communities goes back over 30 years. (The Imgur service , where I recently worked, had its own uprising in June: dissatisfied users “captured the main page” .) But Reddit is the largest online community in history. And this makes it a tempting object for community management experiments and its commercialization. Each rebellion is different from the others, but they have common features.

Reddit rebellion and the issue of community commercialization

The vast majority of online communities belong to commercial corporations, where every dollar of profit goes to owners only. Often, the interests of companies are mixed with the common good so much that it is difficult to separate them. This leads to the fact that explicit attempts to profit are criticized by the community. But you cannot do without such a showcase of selflessness, otherwise the volunteers who create the main value will consider themselves only hired workers with extremely low pay. It’s easier to whiten a fence for free than for a dollar.

Community commercialization faces the following challenges:
  • The community considers itself democratic. The owner pretends to be a republic, and he is elected. In reality, online communities are weak dictatorships. The company, which sheltered the community, has full control over everything related to their software. Although the company owns the software, this is essentially only part of the product really in demand. It is complemented both by the value brought by the authors who create and edit the content, as well as by the readers who give the content relevance and significance. The result is a form of government that combines the hypocritical righteousness of the oppressed and the timid appearance of democracy.
  • Media businesses (which are online attention-trading communities) are based either on mass and wide coverage, or on a narrow niche where they managed to find a gold mine. Most choose reach, which is why the company is pushing the community to the mainstream. But one of the foundations of the community is the internal language, which allows us to separate “ours” from “strangers”. In essence, this creates an entry barrier for users who are forced to learn this language to join. In order to maintain community accessibility, it is necessary to purposefully blur what first of all makes it special.
  • The presence of a user-controlled home page allows you to give originality and power to users, not the platform itself.A typical Facebook or Twitter user is just as intolerant of change as a Reddit user. But on these platforms there is enough informational “feed” to grab attention and extinguish the power of indignation. The spark of resistance should spread more naturally through internal subscriber communities, while remaining limited by the administration’s control over the editorial. When Facebook launched the news feed, he inadvertently created a tool that allows users to turn against their hosts. But since each user's feed is unique, and the final editorial is completely controlled by the owners of the resource, not a single story can appear on the screens of all users for days. Users have much more control over their own destiny,

No online community with collective self-government has yet turned into a successful big business. Unlike split subscription-based communities: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. It is very unexpected that it was the Amazon retail chain (the owner of the absorbed Twitch, Goodreads, IMDB, and DPReview communities) that has the most solid understanding of self-managed communities among all mega-corporations. For Amazon, the communities perform the same function that the Bloomberg media empire performs for Bloomberg terminals: maintaining increased attention to a particular asset, they then successfully convert it into cash.

I am enthusiastically following the evolution of online communities. It is especially curious that so far not a single large self-governing community has emerged, based primarily on mobile devices. I believe that on the basis of a self-governing community, you can build a large business, but this will require an unprecedented level of interaction between the community and its owner. It is possible that this will be Reddit or Imgur. Well, while I go, I’ll do something else. ∎

About the author: Sam Gerstensang - is now creating something new, previously launched Imgur , is part of the investment team @ a16z . Read more at

CAP: Vasily Timm [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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