Staticwave Moving yet staying in the same place

The Two Cultures (of Reddit)

The two cultures is an influential 1959 book discussing the rift between the humanities and the sciences, how they talk differently, how they hold different values and how they rarely interact. I don't suppose to have something new to say about this philosophical and cultural discourse, but I'll happily steal the title to discuss an organization with a Jekyll and Hyde culture, Reddit.

Reddit, as its byline claims is "the front page of the Internet." Functionally, its a hybrid link-sharing and discussion board system. Reddit's main innovation was the introduction of the upvote/downvote system, "democratizing" both the popularity of links, and the comments on those links. These links can be posted in user-created and moderated topic-centric "subreddits" which develop their own rules, discourse and cultures.

The First Culture

When a random Internet denizen navigates to Reddit, what do they see? They see what are called the default subreddits. These subreddits are selected by the Reddit administrators through an internal process, occasionally, they explain their choices on their admin blog. These default subreddits receive massive traffic as do the links that are posted there. These subreddits are also the default subscriptions for new users.

So what are the default subreddits as of this writing?

/r/announcements /r/Art /r/AskReddit
/r/askscience /r/aww /r/blog
/r/books /r/creepy /r/dataisbeautiful
/r/DIY /r/Documentaries /r/EarthPorn
/r/explainlikeimfive /r/Fitness /r/food
/r/funny /r/Futurology /r/gadgets
/r/gaming /r/GetMotivated /r/gifs
/r/history /r/IAmA /r/InternetIsBeautiful
/r/Jokes /r/LifeProTips /r/listentothis
/r/mildlyinteresting /r/movies /r/Music
/r/news /r/nosleep /r/nottheonion
/r/oldschoolcool /r/personalfinance /r/philosophy
/r/photoshopbattles /r/pics /r/science
/r/Showerthoughts /r/space /r/sports
/r/television /r/tifu /r/todayilearned
/r/TwoXChromosomes /r/UpliftingNews /r/videos
/r/worldnews /r/writingprompts

Source: What's that, Lassie? The old defaults fell down a well?

There are few gems in the list but the majority of the listed defaults are one might call "meme culture" material. Funny pictures, animal pictures and other material that used to be shared via email forwards and on Facebook walls. Most disappointingly, posts with funny or "interesitng" pictures receive many more upvotes than other posts, which means that according to Reddit's algorithm, the default sorting will be dominated by these posts. These posts also receive far more traffic to their comments sections, resulting in trolling, junk posts and tangent arguments about content. One non-Redditor even commented to me that Reddit was "just like 4chan."

The other issue with the public face of Reddit is when the media comes calling. Reddit's open nature of hosting many communities for free under it's roof brings scrutiny when these communities veer into areas where the general public perceives as illegal or immoral. This has shown up in the /r/thefappening (most recently) as well as the /r/jailbait blow-up that happened a few years ago. These moral panics have resulted in the media reporting Reddit as a "wretched hive of scum an villainy." Reddit admins have tried their best to support free speech where these activities are legal but morally questionable, but with the increasing size, money, and media coverage, they have begun to ban subreddits more quickly. People who have never even visited Reddit get their ideas from the media, and so to some, it has a very bad reputation.

The Other Culture

Outside the default subreddits, the Reddit front page becomes a very different place. There are many strongly moderated subreddits discussing science, media, electronics, fitness and a myriad of other broad and narrow topics. These subreddits have in many cases thousands of members who are dedicated, helpful and deeply interested in their topic. Whatever you may be interested in, you can find an engaged and active community posting links and commenting. The activity happening today in subreddits is the natural evolution of the BBS and forum systems where small communities geek out on their topic of choice.

For people who haven't used Reddit before, I'm going to offer some recommendations of subreddits that demonstrate has good Reddit can be. These will fall into a couple of categories, based on what I have found valuable.

What Reddit used to be

Back when I joined Reddit, the defaults were very different. There was a much larger proportion of links to longer form news stories, investigative journalism, opinion pieces and articles on science. In the spirit of how Reddit once was, a number of subreddits have attempted to recreate this, through strong moderation and an involved commmunity. Here is a selection of ones I enjoy:

Interesting Conversations

One thing that didn't exist back when I joined Reddit were any vibrant "topic-focused" discussions. Such discussion subreddits couldn't really exist until the Reddit reached a critical mass of members. There are a number which have popped up in the last few years which have some really interesting spins attempts to generate discussion.

Domain Specific Communities

Reddit's subreddit system allows people interested in specific things to discuss and share links, here are a few that I subscribe to. Obviously this is more a reflection of what I'm interested in, you should search Reddit for what you like.

Self Improvement

One of the most helpful things I've found on Reddit is the communities centered on self-improvement. People geek out on clothes, hair, organization, and a myriad of other helpful topics. The posts I've read on these subreddits have helped me to be more productive, dress better, and be a better person in general. Why would I do this? See my post on Kaizen.

Final Thoughts

Reddit, if you're not careful, can eat a significant amount of your time. The stream of constant new posts can have an addictive quality to it. If you curate your Reddit to be full of thoughtful articles and useful information, instead of clickbait and cat pictures, at least that addictive nature can benefit you.