Interrogating an Interface: Reddit
Reddit is a huge social network platform that houses communities known as “subreddits” that allow users to browse posts of just about anything that interests them. This is due to the social and participatory nature of Reddit that allows users to create subreddits that make up the entirety of Reddit. It is an extremely popular worldwide social network platform, hosting 430 million monthly active users and over 100,000 communities. Interacting with Reddit includes posting links, images, videos, or just plain old text in any subreddit of your choosing. To begin posting on Reddit and create your very own subreddit, you must register a Reddit account, which simply asks for an email address, username, and password. You do not even have to verify the email address which makes it easy to create anonymized/throwaway accounts. Upon creation, you are asked to subscribe to some popular subreddits to start seeing feeds on your front page and thus allowing you to begin interacting with the communities.
Interacting on Reddit comes down to creating comments and posts on subreddits. Users can sort posts and comments based on a few options: hot, which sorts based on has received a lot of upvotes and/or comments recently; best, which sorts based on the highest upvote to downvote ratio; top, which sorts based on the highest amount of upvotes regardless of downvotes; new, which sorts the newest post; old, which sorts by the oldest posts; and last but not least is “controversial”, which sorts posts based on highest even split between upvotes and downvotes. You can also sort all of these by date as well. These options allow users to be able to find exactly the type of content they are interested in viewing as well as when they were posted.
Reddit offers a “premium” subscription you can pay for to help support the platform that allows you to circumvent ads and get other special benefits, such as receiving monthly “coins” you can use to buy awards and gift them to other users’ posts and comments. They can be given to any post or comment a user finds interesting, funny, insightful, etc. The awards given to a user are used as a metric to show how much server time they have helped Reddit fund. The inclusion of the awards helps nurture the social aspect of the website with users being able to show thanks to other users beyond just a simple upvote or reply.
Reddit offers two interfaces, one old and one new. The new one is enabled by default and is a modernized version of the original interface as it was released well over a decade ago and deprecated. While a matter of preference as some users prefers the simplicity of the old design as well as the fact that many subreddits were originally designed for the old interface. However, new users should have no problem whatsoever using and navigating the new UI as it also has new features not present in the old one, such as dark mode and other quality of life improvements that improve website navigation. The mobile interface is practically identical to the new, default UI of Reddit on a computer/laptop but is catered to mobile screens. The interface on both platforms follows popular contemporary design. Excluding the occasional advertisement, it has a very clean, sleek, and minimalist design with little to no distractions outside of what content is presented for the user to read. This provides users with a clear and focused reading experience where they are not burdened with irrelevant visual information.
To create a subreddit, your account must be 30 days old and in good standing, which means you can’t have any valid reports made against your account. There is no clear answer from Reddit why this is the case, however, it is almost certain to prevent bots and spammers from creating multiple subreddits every single day and overload the website with useless content. You simply click a “create community” button that is displayed on the right of the front page of Reddit. It asks you to name the community, which relevant topics apply to the community, such as art, writing, sports, etc, as well as a short description. There are three options for what type of community the subreddit will be: public, open for everyone to see and subscribe to; restricted, anyone can view the subreddit but only approved members can post; private, only invited users can view and post. You can also require users to subscribe to the subreddit before they can make posts or upvote and downvote. These options allow for subreddit owners to create any kind of community they wish, allowing them to create public or gated communities for friends and peers, acting as a barrier to entry for unwelcome users.
Once the subreddit is created, you have more options with what you want to do with your subreddit. Most notably, you can customize the appearance of it by simply changing the color theme, icon, banner, change the contents of the right-hand menu display, the posts section, and even get technical if you know the CSS programming language. For example, while the subreddit r/Ooer looks fairly typical on the new default UI, https://reddit.com/r/Ooer/, if you were to view it in the old UI, https://old.reddit.com/r/Ooer/, it is certainly a spectacle to behold and showcases the unique wackiness that is achievable with editing CSS. From personal experience, I have found that many subreddits are only customized for the old interface and are much fancier looking than their new interface counterpart. I surmise this is because the new interface is in its infancy and not yet made mandatory. Simply put, Reddit gives users near-total customizability for subreddits to suit their needs and allow for some crazy designs.
There is also a section for the creator and moderators of the subreddit who have total control over the subreddit. Moderators can be given different levels of “trust” for what they are and are and are not allowed to do. The owner of the subreddit can assign certain users to be responsible for handling different tasks instead of just having every moderator access to everything. A moderator will full access can read reports, ban users, approve users, make other users moderators, grant users flairs, emoji settings, post flairs, create rules, schedule posts and events, custom rewards, and much more. This allows subreddits to have an established hierarchy and have popular subreddits be properly managed and regulated.
With the sheer amount of customization that Reddit offers its users, any individual interested in creating a community based around literally anything is welcome to create a subreddit. Reddit allows and encourages any and all kinds of content to be posted as long as it does not break Reddit’s content policy, such as harassment, bullying, inciting violence, and among other more obvious restrictions that would make them face legal repercussions as Reddit is an American-owned company by Advance Publications, Inc. For example, early in its infancy, there use to be a subreddit known as r/BeatingWomen. Needless to say, this subreddit was promptly banned as it featured graphic pictures and videos of violence against women. Not only that, but users were also sharing the personal information of these women with each other. A subreddit that was banned due to legal issues was r/GunsForSale, as sellers were exploiting a loophole in U.S. federal law that caught the attention of authorities. Reddit enforces its community rules very seriously and has always been compliant with U.S. legal jurisdiction.
Critiques of Reddit mainly stem from the upvote and downvote system, known as karma, and the bias of moderators on certain popular subreddits like r/politics, where the majority of submissions are left-leaning. On paper, the purpose of the rating system is for relevant posts that meaningfully contribute content to the subreddit it is posted in gets upvoted, and irrelevant or low-effort submissions get downvoted. This works similarly for comments as well. In reality, users tend to simply upvote and downvote posts and comments that they agree or disagree with, which causes issues for many communities where proper, well-made submissions get downvoted simply because of differing opinions or if somebody does not like what is posted, even if it is factual information. This means that while Reddit is great for hobbies, enthusiasts, and other “neutral” content, it may not be the most reliable forum for intellectual discussion of political and social issues.
Reddit boldly asserts itself as being “ the front page of the internet”, and for good reason. Almost every conceivable piece of human information and knowledge is gathered and posted all in one place for users to digest, neatly organized into multiple sections users can easily search for, and there is always something there for everyone. I have personally been an avid user of the website since 2014 and I have learned a whole lot of neat and interesting things just by scrolling through posts on my phone. The subreddits I’m subscribed to never cease to entertain me for over seven years now and I always find myself subscribing to new ones. Creating a subreddit is easy as can be, and the amount of customization freedom given to the user is incredible. While Reddit has its fair share of problems, like any online internet forum, they are mostly caused by the misdeeds of troublemaking users. Reddit is a great website for learning new things as well as being able to have a good time watching funny videos or reading scary stories. The beauty of Reddit is that it can become whatever the user wants it to be, having subreddit subscriptions that are perfectly tailored to satisfy the wants of the user.