Reddit’s API Pricing: What’s at stake?

Redditors across the mega site that is Reddit will be shutting down popular subreddits, many of them with thousands of members in their communities, in protest at the introduction of API pricing. The pricing has been described as exorbitant, replicating the reaction the tech community had when Twitter started charging for API access. Redditor comments have included:

  • they aren’t achieving anything but making themselves looks shady
  • You guys are just making things worse
  • This has to be one of the worst comments I’ve ever read on this hellhole of a website. And that’s saying a lot… If you want to kill 3rd party apps, just do it. Don’t play with us or the devs. You’re somehow making Elon look good, and Elon is a f*****g clown.

While Reddit is maintaining its position, the need to secure alternative revenue streams for their platform being evident, there’s a lot at stake. At stake is the culture of Reddit. For the majority of its history, Reddit has been about community, exemplified by the slogan change from The Front Page of the Internet to Dive into anything. You don’t hear the term Facebookers or Twitterers. But there are Redditors. Many proudly identify as such, having made lifelong connections and friends on the site. But could this be changing? As Reddit introduces API pricing, many people feel Reddit is moving away from the community-focused platform it was to a corporate entity devoid of feeling.

Let’s not forget what helped Reddit win the link aggregator war against Digg in 2010. Digg was a link aggregator site launched in 2004. It became extremely popular and websites whose links were posted on it could benefit from the Digg Effect, a surge in web traffic. Reddit was launched in 2005 and competed with Digg for a number of years until 2010 when Digg v4 was released. Power users and publishers gained disproportionate influence on Digg, causing Digg’s front page to be dominated by publishers, who also happened to be offering money to power users. The everyday Digg user was neglected. In a survey by Mashable 83% of respondents said they preferred the old Digg to the new Digg.

Mashable Poll: New Digg vs. Old Digg
A poll in August 2010 asking Digg users which version they preferred. Users overwhelmingly preferred the Old Digg.

Digg’s inability to listen to its users resulted in Quit Digg Day on 30th August 2010. One voter on the poll wrote: Clearly, you had your reasons for dropping the new format and algorithms on the digg community. However, we’ve seen no indications that those reasons included any meaningful contact with those who use the site… Instead, apparently, your “creative team” tried to do most or all of the “thinking,” designed a retrogressive “new” look and functionality, and ended up with a revolt. Duh!

Digg users upvoted all links that were submitted by Reddit and they migrated en masse to Reddit. Around 10,000 new users signed up to Reddit on Quit Digg Day and Reddit even changed its logo to a shovel to welcome Digg users. Within a month of Digg v4’s launch, Digg’s traffic dropped by 33%. It was once in talks of being acquired by Google and was valued at $164 million. It ended up being sold for a fraction of that valuation at $500,000 in 2012.

Now, over a decade after Quit Digg Day, Redditors are having their own Quit Reddit Day. While seemingly innocuous, the culture of Reddit is at stake. Powering on without listening to users can have disastrous consequences, as Digg found out in 2010. Though Reddit will take comfort in knowing other platforms have survived massive user discontent, a recent example being widespread protest over YouTube’s dislike count removal, many more alternatives exist today than in 2010.

In an unpredictable social media environment where the metaverse is dead one day and alive the next, where Twitter is in chaos and competitors are itching to take advantage, and AI is injecting itself into anything and everything, Reddit is playing with fire. As Reddit continues with its API pricing strategy and disenfranchising a large number of its user base in the process, will we be seeing a Reddit Exodus reminiscent of 2010?

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