Being Reddit has an upside and a downside: on the upside, you are one of the web’s largest online communities, with billions of pageviews per month, a passionate user base, and a reputation for giving birth to some of the internet’s most entertaining “memes.” On the downside, other sites hunting for viral content just grab whatever they want from your forums—images, videos, comments, etc.—and never give you any credit while they are monetizing all that traffic.
Over the past year or so, the often anarchic online community has been trying to grow up, and part of that involves embracing its future as a media entity. Among other things, it has launched a podcast and a newsletter, as well as a tool that allows other sites to embed Reddit comment threads on their pages.
At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco this week, Reddit co-founder and chairman Alexis Ohanian announced another, even more ambitious effort: the company said it has hired two video editor/producers from Vox Media’s site The Verge to produce custom video content, starting with videos related to the community’s popular “Ask Me Anything” Q&A series.
The AMA feature is one of Reddit’s most popular creations, and has been used for informal interviews with everyone from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to President Barack Obama. It is one of the most journalistic and/or media-oriented things the site does—like a cross between the Charlie Rose show or CNN and the free-for-all of a Reddit discussion thread. Only in a Reddit AMA would President Obama be asked whether he would rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck (a classic Reddit question).
Ohanian said the video unit will start by producing content from the site’s Ask Me Anything interviews, but it sounds as though that is just the beginning of the company’s ambitions when it comes to creating or packaging Reddit content. The Reddit chairman told the Disrupt audience that its recent moves “have all been steps on the evolution toward adding original content to Reddit, and amplifying the stuff that’s already happening on Reddit to a bigger audience.”
The site’s co-founder also said that Reddit’s larger mission is to “connect people across the world through authentic conversations, collaboration, and community.” On the one hand, that sounds a lot like what the site has always done. But looked at another way, it sounds very similar to what platforms like Facebook and Twitter and BuzzFeed say they want to do. And it’s clear that turning Reddit into a business is very much on the company’s mind—and on the minds of investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, who participated in a $50-million financing round last fall.
Media outlets like Vice and BuzzFeed have gotten a lot of attention, both from competitors and from investors—who have poured so much money into Vice that it is worth a reported $2.5 billion—because they are assumed to have the ears and eyes of the much-coveted millennial audience. But Reddit arguably has as much claim to a vast and engaged audience of younger users as either of those sites do.
The video announcement and some of the company’s other recent initiatives raise an interesting question: what might a Reddit of the future look like, if the site continues to pursue its destiny as a media entity? Could it become an open platform for news and other content created by its users, and even give them a financial return on their creativity? Or will its efforts to monetize content and become a media outlet on its own terms turn off some of those hyper-engaged community members?
For better or worse, it’s fairly clear that this is the path Reddit is headed down. Media companies that have discounted the site as a playground for nerds rather than a competitor may be in for a rude awakening.