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Attention Reddit (and everybody who cares about it): A History Lesson

Date/Time Permalink: 12/28/12 10:02:14 am
Category: Geek Culture

It seems I can't avoid even if I want to these days. It gets quoted on every other news feed I check. Reddit, formerly the new Usenet, is now the new Internet Oracle, whose every babbling is posted alongside Twitter tweets and Facebook comments as one more "citizen in the street" comment. It streams by in CNN tickers and blares from the pages of my hometown newspaper. Obama did an interview there.

Which is starting to make it a teeny bit concerned with its own self-image. Because, like countless other social news and bookmarking sites out there, it's turned into a vat of boiling crap.

Prerequisite reading: "Why Social Bookmarking Will Always Suck".

That old post wasn't just meant as idle ranting. There are sociological forces at work here which so far go un-examined in academia. Social, psychological, and political scientists could be reaping gobs of research from online forum sites, but apparently they're not important enough to justify the research grants. So, if any of us care any at all about the atmosphere in which most of us spend the majority of our time, we will care at least once in a while about the quality of the time spent there.

The problem on Reddit is the quality: They're drowning in crap.

I've seen it before: Usenet, Yahoo groups, Slashdot, Delphi forums, About, 4chan, Ebaumsworld, Digg, Something-Awful, Tumblr, Twitter, MySpace, ten million PHPBB boards, and even BBS discussion sites of the '80s of yore.

The only one thing that sets Reddit apart from countless discussion forums is that it is the most conservative online community ever! It is insulated and xenophobic - Redditors consider themselves thousands of miles higher than every other website, infinite degrees morally superior to every other human being on Earth, just for having gotten a free, unscreened nick on the site. In their opinion, if it didn't happen on Reddit, it didn't happen. To Redditors, history began with the first Reddit post. Reddit doesn't just repost tired meme jokes, it recites them in unison in high Latin during midnight mass. As tight as Freemasons, you can't even get in the door there without the secret handshakes and lodge signs. No Reddit account can do any wrong; even spammers and astroturfers and child pornographers and scam artists are lovingly embraced and tenaciously defended, once they show that they have a Reddit account. It is the Manson cult of social media, while thinking it's Haight-Ashbury. It is impossible to get banned from the site, something even 4chan can't claim. Although the site has a reputation for being a traffic driver, akin to Digg and Slashdot, it actually drives the least traffic per post of any social linking site - that's because the vast majority of Reddit links link to other pages on Reddit itself. Beyond that, a huge chunk of Reddit posts are merely comparisons of itself with other sites, trying to squeeze that crucial last millimeter out of the ruler. Bellybutton lint: It's what's for dinner.

In previous forums, companies needed to create a walled garden to keep a community this insulated; Reddit is the first community to do this to themselves. And of course, with such an airtight, hermetically-sealed, monocultural, inbred web society, it's a little hard for news from the Outside World to get in there.

So let your friendly neighborhood Redditor know "Why Social Bookmarking Will Always Suck".

But tell them outside of Reddit! The site has immunity built up to any opinion not branded with the barcode of the Hivemind; Reddit is as deaf to differing opinions as Glenn Beck. But it has millions of users; these same users are bound to sleep, eat, and go to work sometime. Some of them, miraculously enough, even have significant others.

Answer for them this conundrum, and then they can stop screaming "Why are we drowning in crap?" at each other every day. Because the rest of us would like to browse "the Mainstream Media" in peace again.

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