Navel Gazing
Secret society or growing social community?

Social news site Reddit is kind of like an introspective teenager: the more it ages and grows, the deeper its identity crisis.

Yesterday, that crisis made it to the front page.

Redditor EetzRusheen posted an image of the Reddi alien (the site’s ubiquitous mascot and logo) with these words written beneath it:

“Reddit. Where 20 million unique visitors think it’s a secret society.”  

That line references an attitude of exclusivity that often creeps into comments on the site. But more specifically, it points to the verbal secret handshake redditors created last year: “Does the narwhal bacon at midnight?” (a reference to two internal memes on the site).

Redditors responded, and navel-gazed, in force

“People think it's like a secret society because everyone on it spends all their time on it, rather than out [in] society conversing to other redditors,” wrote OrphanTears.

“Reddit,” wrote ghostrider176. “Where over half the posts are posts about Reddit itself.”

“The only thing lamer than thinking reddit is a secret society,” wrote internetsuperstar, “is feeling obligated to convince people it's not.”

These existential crises are nothing new.

The site’s first ever comment was a complaint that it was going downhill -- because of the introduction of comments.

And then, of course, there’s the constant hand-wringing over the influx of new users who supposedly torpedo the quality of content.

But does it really matter, anyway?

With over 20 million unique visitors a month, the site’s users surely can’t believe themselves to be members of an exclusive club, nor can they fit into easily defined categories.

But that’s fine: they can create the categories -- and clubs -- for themselves.

As Erik Martin, the site’s general manager (who hates what he calls the “narwhal bacon thing”), told us last month:

“We feel our system does a better job than most in letting people define their own spaces.”

That’s because the site has a potentially infinite number of subreddits, or sections, which can be as nonexclusive or exclusive as redditors want them to be.

Take r/illumunati, for instance.

They’ve only got 131 members.

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