Monday, November 19, 2012

The effect formerly known as Slashdot

reddit Cast your mind back to when you started using Twitter. Remember how idiotic is seemed? How can you achieve anything useful in 140 characters? Wind forward to 2012. Welcome to reddit.

Over the last week I've been thinking a lot about Impact, spurred on by #solo12. There are lots of tools I should be making better use of, including YouTube, where I've had over a million views but have never engaged properly, and new tools such as FigShare and Orcid that I have just started to explore. After the conversation at Solo12 though, I decided to invest the limited time I have available at present grokking reddit. Any tool influential to crash the PLOS servers and give AoB Blog a year's worth of traffic in a single day must be worthy of a closer look.

WARNING - if you're not familiar with reddit, before you start exploring note that a lot of reddit is NSFW. You have been duly warned!

Although it might be under your radar, reddit is big - 3.8 billion pageviews and more than 46 million unique visitors in October 2012. (Although according to Alexa, 4chan is slightly higher than this). The domain is ranked 106th in UK, 64th in the USA. Typical users are males in the age range 18-24, no children, some college education, and browse reddit from school/work. We know those demographics are accurate because reddit feels like stepping into an episode of Big Bang Theory. This the first thing to understand about reddit - it is a community, not a platform; although having said that reddit is not a platform -  University of Reddit? Of course. My own institution has a subreddit, as does yours, You've never been there, but it's an education ;-) But don't take my word for all this. Reddit is the place Obama goes when he wants to win an election.

Reddit is devoted to pricking your ego, so it's not about friends or followers. Karma is important, but not as important as grokking the culture (each subreddit [tribe] tends to develop its own when it reaches a critical mass). Consequently, I've been giving my karma a gentle footrub, becoming familiar all the in-jokes. Of course, overall intelligence works at the gross-out movie level of the normal Gaussian curve, but misunderestimate the redditors at your peril - the reddit community is sharper than Sheldon on modafinil.

At first acquaintance  reddit is crude and confusing, it feels like the Internet felt 15 years ago. This is deliberate - reddit repays effort. Although it needs more work, my filtering is now good enough that it's starting to pay me back in valuable content. I'm not a fan of gamification, but the only way to grok reddit is to play up and play the game. "Front page of the Internet" is too strong (Google is still that) but reddit is much quicker and more agile than Google. And a lot funnier too. Once you get the joke.

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