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Caging memes

One redditor thinks he may have found a way to keep memes from overrunning good discussion on Reddit.


Kevin Morris


Posted on Aug 8, 2011   Updated on Jun 3, 2021, 3:32 am CDT

Can anyone stop Reddit from being overrun with image memes?

One man, at least, wants to give it a try.

The memes, such as rage comics and advice animals, are easy to make, easy to post, and easy to upvote—giving them an unfair advantage over other content on the social news site. And once they get planted in a section of the site, they quickly take it over, like a tough invasive species edging out delicate local flora.

So redditor syncretic has started an ambitious clean-up effort.

He wants to try to corral all of the image memes from the site’s atheism section—r/atheism, which has been overrun with memes recently—into their own specified sections.

Basically, it’s like moving the memes in their own walled gardens: still alive and flourishing, but separate from everything else.

Just a week into the experiment, syncretic’s strategy seems to be paying off.

His section for atheism rage comics has ballooned to over 800 readers, adding an average of about 100 a day. That, according to syncretic,  is “awesome for a brand new subreddit.” He would know: syncretic has created over 60 subreddits on the site, with combined subscribers totaling more than 100,000.

Though syncretic himself is quick to point out that it’s too early to tell if the strategy will have a long-term effect, it’s worth noting that no rage comics made it to the front page of r/atheism today.

But why are image memes such a controversial subject in the first place?

As syncretic notes, “memes are quick, disposable content, usually provoking a good laugh.”

That’s fine for some but not everyone comes to Reddit for disposable content, or a quick laugh; many still hope to find quality content and discussions.

Because the spread of memes is difficult to control on a site with 20 million unique visitors a month, for many serious redditors they’ve become evidence of a slow and irrevocable decline in the site’s quality.

So controlling image memes could please everyone: those who come for a quick laugh, and those who come for great discussions.

If syncretic succeeds in cleaning up r/atheism, it just might provide a blueprint for the rest of the site. And that could be a long-term boon to the health of the Reddit ecosystem.

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*First Published: Aug 8, 2011, 5:36 pm CDT