Co-founder Alexis Ohanian tells Fortune that Upvoted is designed to broaden the reach of Reddit's content while giving credit to those who created it
Reddit, the site that likes to call itself the “front page of the Internet,” also happens to be the source for many of the other front pages on the Internet, in the sense that a lot of news and entertainment outlets get their top stories by reading its various forums and discussion threads. Now, Reddit is fighting back: The site has launched its own news portal, known as Upvoted, with an editorial team whose job it is to write about those Reddit posts before anyone else does—and to give Reddit users credit for them.
Reddit is also no doubt hoping that the launch of Upvoted will be a bright spot in what has otherwise been a fairly dark time for the site, which has been struggling to right itself after a massive user revolt, management turmoil and what some might even call a crisis of conscience on the part of the site’s founders.
Upvoted looks much like many other news and entertainment sites, except that all of its content comes from a Reddit forum or discussion thread, or from the company’s podcast (also called Upvoted) and its popular Ask Me Anything interview feature. A small team of editors and writers—run by former MySpace editorial director Vickie Chang—will be posting between 10 and 20 stories a day to begin with, and each one will mention the Reddit user who posted the content and link to the forum it appeared in.
“Fortune saw this one coming back when we announced we’d start producing original video with our communities,” Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said in an interview. “We’re very excited, because the best part of Reddit has always been users—the anecdotes they contribute, the photographs and illustrations they post, and the comments they leave. This is a new way for us to not only credit them, but also amplify that great content to an even bigger audience.”
Ohanian said the idea for a standalone site emerged on one of his many airplane flights back and forth from New York to San Francisco (where he now lives), and was based in part on the success of the podcast and a newsletter that also curates the best from Reddit, which already has more than 250,000 subscribers.
“For a long time, Reddit has been source for so much great content online, whether creating it or surfacing it. Lots of people love that content on the site—more than 200 million people—but even more people love it somewhere else,” Ohanian said. “So we thought, what can we do to bridge that gap, so that readers can see and enjoy these stories with proper credit given to the people who created them, in a format that’s a little more reader-friendly than a page with a million comments.”
The Reddit co-founder said he is excited to be focusing on the launch of something new, which isn’t surprising given the turmoil at the company over the past year. The drama began in the spring, as Reddit started trying to implement new rules around the posting of offensive content, as an attempt to stamp out some of the bad behavior the site had become notorious for hosting, including sub-Reddits like Fat People Hate and Raping Women.
Reddit also raised $50 million in venture funding from a group led by Andreessen Horowitz, which might have helped change the company’s mind about the free-wheeling nature of the site. Instead of just being a plaything for nerds, all of a sudden it had to start thinking like a business. The launch of Upvoted (which will carry sponsored content written by the site’s editorial staff but no other advertising) is part of an attempt to do that.
The way the changes to offensive content were handled irritated many of the moderators who run Reddit’s forums — all of whom are unpaid volunteers. Many also didn’t like CEO Ellen Pao, the former Kleiner Perkins partner who had taken over running the site after former CEO Yishan Wong quit.
In typical Reddit fashion, the whole affair turned into a massive dumpster fire: One of the site’s popular staffers—Victoria Taylor, who worked on the Ask Me Anything team—was suddenly fired. Moderators, who saw Taylor as one of the few who understood what they were doing and was trying to help, shut down their forums en masse and much of the site went dark. “I take full responsibility for how poorly that transition was handled, and I’ve apologized in every forum I can,” Ohanian told Fortune.
Ultimately, Pao quit, and Ohanian and Huffman took control of the company they founded as college roommates, despite having been estranged from each other for years. According to a recent interview with Huffman in Wired magazine (which, like Reddit, is owned by the Newhouse family’s Advance Publications), the two went their separate ways for a number of reasons, but the train wreck that threatened to engulf their creation ultimately drew them back together in an attempt to save it.
Huffman is now the company’s CEO, and is in charge of the technical and business aspects of the site, while Ohanian runs editorial operations like Upvoted. In addition to trying to launch its own news operation, Ohanian said the company is also working on mobile apps and a responsive mobile version of its website—a weakness Reddit has been trying to overcome for some time—and is also rolling out better tools that moderators can use to manage discussion in their communities.
Much like Twitter, which is now looking to a co-founder—new CEO Jack Dorsey—to rescue it, Reddit is hoping that its co-founders will be able to repair some of the broken parts of the company they created, in part because they have a special relationship with the site and its community. Whether they can do this, and also become a functioning business at the same time, remains to be seen.