To the uninitiated, Reddit looks like a mess — text links, comment threads, points, upvotes, downvotes. At best, posts seem contextless — at worst, totally random.
But spend some quality time with “The Front Page of the Internet,” and you’ll find it’s an essential resource, a self-correcting marketplace of ideas that’s nearly impervious to marketers.
Simply put, Reddit is a message board wherein users submit links. What differentiates it from a real-time information network like Twitter is that the stream of content is curated by the community. Items of value are “upvoted,” and those deemed unworthy are “downvoted.” This determines a post’s position on the site, and items that hit the front page are seen by hundreds of thousands of people (consequently, sending boatloads of traffic to the linked website).
This type of voting system was popularized by Digg, which launched in late 2004. Reddit came soon after in 2005, and the two were competitive. But what really distinguishes Reddit to this day is the community. The type of content that’s valued, the discussion around it, and the diligence with which users vet and expand on important topics is unmatched. As such, the front page is usually populated with things that will make you think, laugh out loud, and motivate you to dig a little deeper.
If you’re ready to tap in but not sure where to start, check out our overview below.
Live the Reddit Culture
If Facebook is your hometown, think of Reddit as a foreign country. You don’t speak the language, the customs are odd, and you often won’t know what’s going on.
That’s OK. Just spend some time there. Check out the site at least once a day — more, if you really want to see how content moves around. Don’t just visit the outbound links, but dig into the comment threads to see what people are talking about.
Reddit is extremely self-referential. If you see something posted that doesn’t make sense, it’s likely referencing an aspect of Reddit culture (a previous post, a meme — something popular from the site). Often, you’ll be able to pin down the reference point in the comments. Other users who want clarification will upvote commenters who explain things, thus bringing the value to the top of the thread.
Comments are key. They are arguably the most important (and often, most entertaining) part of the site. Just because something has been upvoted to the front page does not necessarily mean it’s legitimate. If it’s been there long enough, there’s a good chance the top comment will be a user citing contradictory sources or questioning the merit of the article in question.
Thus, the community can self-regulate in ways that Facebook and Twitter cannot. In theory, the most valuable discussion always bubbles to the top (more on this below).
You won’t figure it out on day one. But if you check back often, you’ll start to absorb the culture. You’ll begin to see what has value and what is suspicious. And as you drill down into verticals that interest you (subreddits), you’ll find passionate communities engaged in discussion you won’t find elsewhere.
The Front Page and Subreddits
The Reddit homepage consists of content submitted to the site’s most popular channels, or “subreddits” — Pics, Technology, WorldNews, Music, Gaming, etc. New users (and visitors who are not logged in) are automatically subscribed to these top channels.
As you discover more niche communities, you can subscribe to those subreddits, which will push popular posts from those channels to your homepage. You can always browse those individual subreddits directly, of course.
If a subreddit gains enough subscribers, it can become part of the default homepage, thus driving additional traffic and subscribers. Communities like r/atheism andr/minecraft have come into their own over the past year, and now appear regularly on the front page.
If you don’t want to see content from a particular subreddit on your homepage, simply unsubscribe from it by clicking the red button at the top-right of that community. Use subscriptions to create a highly customized front page for your account.
Multireddits are customizable groupings of subreddits through which users can navigate the communities of their choosing without being weighed down by the overbearing front page. They appear as an expandable sidebar and are easily created by clicking the “create” button and entering subreddits of your choosing. You can also view other users public multireddits and, if you like them, can create a copy of their curation for your own sidebar.
Upvoting, Downvoting and Score
When you’re logged in to Reddit, you’ll be able to upvote and downvote items to help determine their rank. You get one vote per item, but you can change it after it’s logged.
The number appearing between the up and down arrows is the submission’s score: the number of upvotes minus the number of downvotes. According to Reddit’s FAQ, these numbers are “fuzzed” to prevent spam and abuse.
“On average, the difference in votes is accurate, but the fuzzing is — well, fuzzy,” says Erik Martin, Reddit’s general manager. “At any given moment, the difference may fluctuate very slightly, but over time the average difference is accurate.”
You may also notice that posts with the highest score do not always rank at the top. This is due to Reddit’s time decay algorithm. Posts on the front page are obviously more visible, and therefore have a higher chance of being upvoted. But the site wouldn’t be valuable if the same content remained on the front page all day.
“The decay means that a 12-hour-old post must have 10 times as many points as a brand new post to appear at similar ranks,” explains Martin. “This also means any given story has a roughly a 24 hour max lifespan on any user’s front page.” This allows newer content to surface at the top of the heap.
If you really want to get into the weeds on how Reddit’s “hot algortithm” works, Martin recommends this blog post by programmer Amir Salihefendic.
Seeing what the “hive mind” has already deemed worthy of the front page is fun, but every submission has to start somewhere.
If you want to see fresh submissions, click the “new” tab at the top of the front page or choose a subreddit. There, you’ll see things that have been submitted moments ago, and you can play a role in building their momentum, or downvoting them into oblivion. Be warned: Most of the content you’ll find here is probably uninspired, but you never know what gems you might discover.
Find out which content is picking up steam by click the “rising” link. This will show you posts within the “new” tab that are gaining traction, but aren’t quite front page material yet.
You can also select the “controversial” tab to see which posts are battlegrounds for upvotes vs. downvotes.
Reddit Karma is an accumulation of “goodwill” you receive when users upvote your posts or comments. It doesn’t give you any overt influence and it cannot be cashed in for fabulous prizes, but a healthy amount of Karma on your profile alerts others that you add value to the community.
There are two types of Karma: one for links and one for comments. Both are displayed on your user profile in the upper right-hand corner and are to be worn as badges of honor.
Shorthand and acronyms are persistent on Reddit. You’ll become familiar with them as you spend time on the site.
Here’s a crash course to get you started:
- OP: Original Poster“According to the OP, the image was taken from The New York Times.”
- TIL: Today I learned…“TIL that taxonomically, modern-day birds aren’t just descended from dinosaurs, but are considered to BE dinosaurs.”
- DAE: Does anyone else…“DAE think that Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street should have their own full-length sitcom?”
- IAmA: I am a….“IAmA Police Officer in Arizona, AMA”
- AMA: Ask me anything.“I have had 2 ACL reconstructions. AMA.”
- TL;DR: Too Long; Didn’t Read“[After a long, detailed story] TL;DR I went to Vegas, found a monkey in my hotel room, and lived ‘The Hangover’ in real life.”
- FTFY: Fixed that for you.When someone makes a change to another user’s post or image, often with humorous results.
Submitting a link to Reddit couldn’t be simpler. Title your post, paste the URL and choose the subreddit you want it to appear in. The most-subscribed subreddits will appear as suggestions, but you can type in any existing category.
Click submit and watch your post fly to the front page. Or not. More than 70,000 links are shared to Reddit each day, according to Martin. So the likelihood of yours picking up steam is slim. But there are a few things you can do to get it seen in a sea of content.
- Target the Right Community: A picture of your adorable bunny might have a better shot at reaching the top of r/rabbits (2,767 subscribers) than r/aww (864,407 subscribers) simply because it’s a smaller, more focused audience. However, because r/rabbits does not have enough subscribers to hit the default front page, you won’t see your bunny there.
- Humor: Redditors have a penchant for wit. Regardless of subject matter, top posts and comments are likely humorous. Funny pics, funny stories, meme/web culture and self-referential humor are big here. If you’re still new to the community, a lot of the banter may not make much sense. Stick with it. Eventually, you’ll find that today’s top post is tomorrow’s punchline, and only the regulars will know when to laugh.
- Political Awareness: If you’re looking for political news and opinion, Reddit (and its dedicated Politics subreddit) is a great place to get your fix and participate in the conversation. The community tends to skew liberal (occasionally bordering on libertarian), but there’s no shortage of conservative and moderate voices to balance the discussion. Controversial political topics are often found and discussed on the front page.
- Knowledge: Interesting facts, in-depth reads and first-hand personal stories often perform well on Reddit. The acronym “TIL” stands for “Today I Learned,” and there’s adedicated subreddit for sharing eye-opening facts. We like to highlight the most fascinating factoids found on Reddit each week.
The links you submit only warrant a title, but text posts (non-link submissions, also known as “Self Posts”) and comments can be formatted to include their own links and emphasis. Formatting is done with Markdown syntax, which is different from HTML. Below is a cheat sheet from the Reddit help section:
|YOU TYPE:||YOU SEE:|
|(tab or 4 spaces)preformatted text||preformatted text|
|blah blah `inline code text!` blah blah||blah blah inline code text blah blah|
|\*escape the formatting syntax\*||*escape the formatting syntax*|
Zero Tolerance of Marketers, Fakers and Spammers
Disingenuous posts or comments don’t last long on Reddit. The community is extremely skeptical of marketers and diligent about policing spam. Any such activity is quickly downvoted out of sight. Whereas brands are encouraged to connect with users on Facebook and Twitter, the Reddit community is generally uninterested in marketers intruding on the conversation.
There are rare exceptions, however. Very savvy marketers have found a way into Reddit by creating content the community is genuinely interested in.
Degree antiperspirant tapped into a popular meme about survival show star Bear Grylls. The celebrity did an AMA where he responded to questions about wilderness survival, via YouTube videos hosted on a sponsored site called The Adrenalist. We’ve also seen popular comedians like Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari do AMAs to promote their comedy specials.
However, we’ve also seen this type of Reddit marketing backfire. When actor Woody Harrelsondid an AMA to promote his forthcoming movie, he ignored some of users’ more pointed questions and instead hawked the film. Reddit quickly turned on him, and it became a PR debacle.
As Reddit user vinceredd points out in the comments of that thread, “Reddit isn’t a good venue to pitch your movie, it’s a venue to pitch yourself.”
Taking Reddit on the go is a great way to keep up with the Internet zeitgeist. Reddit.com is a lightweight site, and will render easily on most smartphones. But if you’re looking for a more sophisticated mobile experience, there are some great apps available.
- BaconReader: This robust mobile app offers a great UI and all the functionality of the full site. Drill down into the comments and bring up options on any thread by swiping left or right. Our one gripe is the inability to share Reddit URLs via other apps (Gmail, Twitter, etc.). However, you can easily share the content. BaconReader is ad supported, but you can pay $1.99 for the ad-free premium version.
- iReddit: Reddit offers its own really sleek iPhone app that lets you swipe through your customized homepage and view content without leaving the app’s environment. It also functions nicely on the iPad.
- Alien Blue: Alien Blue for iOS is a fluid, organized Reddit viewing tool for your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. The app supports multiple accounts, has a night-mode and is updated regularly.
Hopefully you’ve got what you need to navigate Reddit’s front page and beyond. Give it a shot, and let us know in the comments if we’ve left out any critical factors.
By Matt Silverman