Reddit represents a lot of what’s most democratic about the internet. Unlike other social platforms, it’s not a place where big brands and major celebrities dominate, as co-creator Alexis Ohanian explained to Rhett & Link on this week’s “Ear Biscuits.” Rather, he said, “It’s less about who you are and more about what you have to say.”
Further describing Reddit as “the YouTube for text,” Ohanian went on to explain how the platform, in a sense, embodies the idea of net neutrality. Like YouTube, it removes the “gatekeeper” that exists in media like television, where a major network has to pick up your show in order for it to reach the masses. Even more democratic than YouTube and Twitter, Reddit brings anonymity to its users via text-heaviness and usernames, so it’s not the kind of digital platform where known celebrities thrive and self-promote. Still, all of these sorts of platforms, according to Ohanian, have allowed for an emerging creative class — a sort of middle class.
In other words, if you were an artist back before the internet became what it is today, your options were a) starving, or b) wildly successful superstar. Today, said Ohanian, “It’s not like, ‘I have to be either a Jay-Z or a starving artist…I can actually make a living making stuff that I really care about…for an audience of people who really love what I do…because the cost of the internet is basically zero.’” That’s because there’s no middleman there, moderating what kind of content will succeed or not online.
This was threatened, of course, by the FCC’s former classification of the internet under title two. About a year ago, the atmosphere surrounding net neutrality was such that Comcast and Verizon looked like they were going to get their way, ending up with the power to prioritize their own content over others and create “fast and slow lanes” on the internet…kind of like television.
At this time, Ohanian was trying to combat this by putting up ads in bus stops, etc., telling people to contact the FCC in support of net neutrality. He called the fact that Netflix started paying ISPs like Comcast and Verizon for faster service “a dangerous precedent,” one that would prevent “the next Netflix” from succeeding. The potential next big things would “lose not because they’re worse but because a cable company chose who the winner was.”
When asked where are we now with net neutrality, Ohanian said, “We’re doing very, very well. I’m not celebrating right now because any decision from the FCC can still be meddled with by Congress.” Still, things look good for an open internet currently, with the FCC having released its open internet order to the public.
Overall, the digital atmosphere is simply more democratic these days. As Ohanian aptly put it, “Everyone with a smartphone is now a reporter.” People are more likely to trust information that’s “self-regulated” as opposed to handed down by a few, select authority figures. This brings us back to Reddit, where users can vote up or vote done a post they like or dislike, respectively, with more up votes making it more popular and allowing it to reach more people. Unlike Twitter, interactions on Reddit are more “human,” Ohanian described, meaning that it’s not the kind of platform where you can enter to shamelessly promote yourself…or your videos, if you’re a YouTube creator.
So how might a YouTuber use Reddit to get more views? “It’s hard,” said Ohanian, “because it’s not as obvious as ‘get a bunch of followers’…it really is ‘make great stuff’…and then when it bubbles up on Reddit, get engaged.” In other words, when it comes to popularity on Reddit, you’ve really got to let the people decide.
For more on Ohanian’s views on net neutrality and the birth of Reddit, listen to “Ear Biscuits with Rhett & Link.”