Unless you’ve been living under a digital rock, chances are, you have heard of or used Reddit. Admittedly, it’s not the first social network that jumps to mind, with the likes of Facebook (Meta) and Twitter (X) probably coming first, but it’s still hugely popular with certain audiences. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Reddit hasn’t had a confusing rebranding or name change and is known for its online network of communities where people can discuss their interests and hobbies with other users.
Over the years, things seem to have become turbulent for this popular social network with various controversies leading us to wonder if Reddit will succumb to the same fate as other failed social networks, including the once-popular Digg.com which shared a similar audience.
Let’s jump into our Reddit death countdown, and investigate what has been going wrong as of late.
Table of Contents
In this post we will explore the following topics:
- 1 Failed social networks
- 2 The early years of Reddit — A brief history
- 3 What is causing the recent decline of Reddit?
- 4 The problem with Reddit’s recent community protests
- 5 A Critical Crossroads: Reddit Death or Turning Point?
Readers may have noticed a trend in our recent articles, including the decline of YouTube and the potential death of Twitter under Musk. While there are genuine but unique concerns about these two platforms, and also Reddit, all three are very much still alive and popular at the time of writing.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for the long list of other failed social networks that have all gone through the cycle of birth, boom and bust.
We won’t list them all here but possibly the most famous failed social networks are:
- MySpace – the most famous failed social network, which declined in popularity between 2009 and 2016 and was ultimately replaced by Facebook in 2008, which still reigns as champion today.
- Google+ – believed to be a real contender to Facebook with the might of Google behind it but died a complete death in 2019.
- Vine – one of the most popular video-sharing apps of its time, Vine was quickly purchased by Twitter in 2012 but was sadly shut down in 2017.
When considering our countdown to Reddit’s death, it’s important to understand why these once giants of social media met their demise. Without naming names, it’s clear that there’s a pattern to these failed social networks that others, like Reddit, need to avoid:
- Profitability – like any business, social networks require people, resources, and money to keep the service alive. Without a clear business strategy and roadmap for monetisation (e.g. through advertising options), they ultimately fail.
- Rising competition – once established, it’s essential to innovate, grow, and improve before new or existing competition catches up and eventually takes over. Social media is a fast-paced industry, and failure to adapt and evolve means risking obsolescence.
- User needs – being unable to keep up with an ever-ageing and ever-more demanding audience is arguably as important as 1 and 2 above. It only takes a small policy change, new feature, removal of a feature, or lack of innovation, to upset users, cause them to leave, and worse create negative PR that damages the brand image.
- Poor UX – buggy, frustrating or poor user experiences often result in unhappy users. Without a slick UX that meets the needs of the target audience, they’ll leave and move to alternative platforms that are more reliable or easier to use.
- Legal battles – anything that results in a legal battle can be expensive to resolve. This unexpected expenditure often worsens the profitability situation, if not causing the collapse itself.
The early years of Reddit — A brief history
Before we go into detail about the decline and potential death of Reddit, we’ll focus on the platform’s beginnings and early successes.
Reddit was founded in 2005 by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian who were roommates at the University of Virginia.
Inspired by Slashdot which was very popular at the time, Reddit as a concept was encouraged by start-up investor Paul Graham. The goal was to have somewhat of a “front page of the internet” that acts as an aggregator of sorts.
What set Reddit apart from the competition was allowing its users to choose whether or not the content posted to the site should be promoted (more visible) or not. This allowed for somewhat of an organic democratic process, allowing the best posts to rise to the top of the front page.
The platform evolved and improved over time, features such as comment functionality were added shortly after the platform was launched. This worked in a similar way to how the content voting system worked. This meant that other users could upvote or downvote comments based on the usefulness of the information provided.
A few years after the platform launched, Reddit allowed users to create subreddits and communities which propelled the popularity of the social network dramatically.
Digg.com community exodus to Reddit
Digg.com is one of the lesser-known failed social networks but was once a similar platform to Reddit in some respects, namely having aggregated news stories on the front page where users could upvote or downvote content.
The thing that set Reddit apart from Digg however was its emphasis on user content, and the ability to create niche online communities that generated unique and interesting content.
In 2010, many users from Digg.com moved over to Reddit due to a controversial redesign that took place on the platform. A “Quit Digg” day was held where frequent users of Digg.com posted links to Reddit while moving over to the platform. This eventually resulted in Reddit taking the lead over Digg.com in terms of search popularity, consequently bolstering Reddit’s active-user count.
Many individual users and even whole subreddits have voiced their concern with recent changes to Reddit, causing many to feel that Reddit’s death is on the cards and it will ultimately suffer the same fate as Digg.com.
As the two platforms were once quite similar, let’s compare some of the differences between Digg.com and Reddit.
|Founders||Kevin Rose, Jay Adelson, Owen Byrne||Steve Huffman, Alexis Ohanian|
|Platform Focus||Aggregated news & user voting||Community-driven discussions with eventual subreddits|
|Popularity||Initial popularity, became a successful content-sharing platform||Grew steadily, fostering a strong and engaged community as new features were added.|
|Inflection Points||Peaked in 2008, faced decline after redesign||Consistent growth, especially in the last decade|
|Algorithm Role||Influenced by user voting||Plays a crucial role in content visibility and discoverability|
|Controversies||Faced backlash over redesign and algorithm changes — huge amounts of users moved over to Reddit||Various controversies, but maintained user trust generally through the years until recently — API price increase etc|
|Monetisation||Experimented with ads and premium services||Introduced ads, awards, and premium memberships and more|
|Community||Eventual loss of user trust||Known for diverse and passionate communities, subreddit dependent|
|Mobile Access||Wasn’t able to provide a compelling mobile experience at the peak of popularity||Successfully switched to mobile app, new UI experience which received a mixed reception|
|Adaptability||Struggled to adapt to changing user preferences and feedback||More active in responding to user feedback and trends in years prior|
|Current Status||Rebranded and revived, focusing on different content||Currently one of the most popular social platforms, but could change as a result of recent changes|
What is causing the recent decline of Reddit?
Although Reddit has gained huge popularity, things have started to take a turn with many users leaving popular subreddits, and some even leaving the site altogether.
Let’s take a look at what is causing the recent decline of Reddit.
API changes and community backlash
The most notable controversy in recent months has been the backlash associated with the API changes impacting third-party developers and applications. This relates to a policy change resulting in developers accessing the Reddit API having to pay fees most deem as unaffordable. The API had previously been free to access ranging back to as early as 2008.
This has led to thousands of subreddits being locked or inaccessible for at least 24 hours in protest of the proposed changes.
One of the most popular third-party Reddit apps, Apollo, announced that the app would no longer work or be supported due to the new changes and charges. This is just one of many third-party apps that will be closing down due to the changes.
Most small developers accessing the Reddit API simply cannot afford to continue development and provide support under the new changes. This has many negative implications for Reddit, and its communities and audiences that regularly use third-party tools to interact with the site.
In addition to the recent API controversy, there have been a number of controversies surrounding many subreddits in recent years too.
As Reddit is a platform consisting of many different communities that can be created by anyone, there inevitably are problematic communities that arise that cause controversy and in some cases, require admins to step in.
Such communities include /r/Deepfakes, /r/Incels, /r/Jailbait and many more that encourage illegal activity, or posting of such material to the subreddits in question.
These were clearly subreddits that needed to be closed down as they actually broke the law in many cases. It is, however, somewhat confusing that Reddit focussed on censorship in much more tame and trivial areas, as opposed to focusing on the truly harmful content that is hosted on their platform.
Astroturfing, bots, and trolls
The term astroturfing is thought of as being a huge problem online in recent years. This isn’t exclusive to Reddit, but due to the nature of how the platform works, the general consensus on each respective subreddit is thought to often be swayed via astroturfing.
Astroturfing is defined by Wikipedia as the following:
“Astroturfing is the use of fake grassroots efforts that primarily focus on influencing public opinion and typically are funded by corporations and political entities to form opinions. On the internet, astroturfers use software to hide their identity.”
The problem with astroturfing is that it gives the illusion of grassroots movements, misrepresenting true authentic community sentiment.
This can obviously be an issue on any popular discussion board or online forum, and Reddit is no exception. Although there aren’t any verifiable examples of this happening, there have been many instances of proven ‘bots’ replying to posts with the same comments they’ve posted elsewhere word-for-word.
This is also a common problem on X (formerly Twitter), although Musk has promised to crack down on the issue by considering charging all-new X users a small fee to combat the bot problem that is prevalent on the platform.
Over-moderation vs under-moderation
There’s a very clear inconsistency between the moderation standards and enforcement of moderation across subreddits. This makes sense as all subreddits have their own sets of moderators, but it still results in an inconsistent experience across the website and can lead to frustration and often anger among users.
Many times we’ve personally tried to share insightful posts on Reddit that get rejected for different reasons:
- Auto rejection by bots for not meeting certain criteria, e.g. karma
- Manual rejection by moderations due to bias and them not agreeing with the content or stance being taken (sometimes moderators can’t even agree between themselves)
- Quota rejections, e.g. too many similar posts on the subject
- Media rejections, e.g. no images or video allowed
- Sometimes outright rejection without any reason
The same goes for many YouTube videos that users try to post. It seems like already-established and well-known channels get somewhat of a free pass when it comes to content being permitted on Reddit, whereas smaller content creators’ content is rejected for self-promotion rule violations.
This just ends up creating a ‘rich get richer’ type scenario where already established brands and creators own a monopoly in terms of coverage on the platform, whereas smaller brands are ignored and rejected completely. Of course, this doesn’t happen on all subreddits, but it has happened enough for it to seem like a real problem.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the platform, there are still subreddits that need stricter moderation and even subreddits where users frequently break the law.
The problem with Reddit’s recent community protests
As touched on earlier, many subreddits had a blackout protest over API changes impacting third-party developers. This protest lasted 24-48 hours on most subreddits only for them to return to normal shortly after.
Although we agree with the sentiment of showing disapproval for changes that detrimentally impact a platform we all know and love, just returning to normality so soon just shows management that they can make any negative changes they like and ‘weather the storm’ until the community gets bored and returns to normal.
The only way that change will take place is if a majority of users leave the site, which is difficult when you’re the only fish in the pond. This is very similar to how users feel about the future of YouTube too, having to reluctantly continue with the service as no other platform comes close at the moment for video sharing.
A Critical Crossroads: Reddit Death or Turning Point?
The trajectory of Reddit’s future and potential death remains a topic of considerable debate. The question of whether Reddit will join the ranks of failed social networks or witness a turning point where it revitalises itself as a formidable and long-lasting player remains unknown.
As we’ve seen with other platforms, the fine balance between innovation and maintaining core user values is critical. Reddit has reached a pivotal moment in its journey where the decisions made now will either write a new chapter of success or add its name to the chronicles of ‘Reddit death’ alongside the likes of Digg.com, Vine, Google+ and MySpace. The future of Reddit hinges on how it navigates these waters, balancing user expectations with the harsh realities of technological evolution, monetisation and market demands.
Only time will tell…
What are your thoughts about the recent changes to Reddit? Do you like the ‘new’ Reddit design and experience or prefer the old? Do you think the price increase in regards to the API is justified? Ultimately, do you agree that we’re in the middle of a form of “Reddit death countdown” that will see Reddit become a failed social network like many others throughout recent history, or is its future strong?
Let us know in the comments, we always love hearing the thoughts of others on matters such as this.