Find out why managing the Reddit community is a lot like keeping bees.
When the moderators of /r/AskReddit tinkered with a new post-tagging system earlier this week it caused a user revolt. The change was implemented poorly and without warning (some of the subreddit’s moderators didn’t even know about it), and the minor Reddit riot it spawned speaks to a bigger issue facing the site: the default subreddit system just doesn’t work.
In case you’re not aware, Reddit’s defaults are the 20 or so subreddits everyone subscribes to when they register. None of the subreddits are officially run by Reddit staff: they’re all essentially owned and managed by volunteer moderators.
At r/askreddit, those mods have become increasingly tired of off-topic or rule-breaking posts. So one of the mods implemented a tagging system that added a note to offending posts, essentially tips pointing to subreddits where the question might be more appropriate.
Users didn’t like it because the tags were, frankly, obnoxious (“Does the mod on the clock right now realize the tags they’re putting on posts is even more irritating than the post they tagged?” nerdscallmeageek wrote). Many still also believe downvotes are the best system for controlling content (something that clearly isn’t working, based on the types of questions that shoot up r/askreddit’s front page).
In this case, very much to their credit, the r/askreddit mods respected the community’s reaction, and shelved the tagging system.
But what if they didn’t? The conflict highlighted once again the problem with reddit’s default system. When users don’t like the way a subreddit is run, the usual refrain is a variation of what r/askreddit mod andrewsmith1986 told that subreddit’s angry commenters on Monday: “Subreddits are kingdoms and you can start your own whenever you want but do not pretend that anything is owed to you.”
But because every new reddit account is automatically subscribed to the defaults, and because the subreddit discovery system is so terrible, you can’t really just “start your own whenever you want.” Moderators and users are pretty much stuck with each other.
There needs to be a mechanism by which reddits (particularly default ones) have viable substitutes/competitors that ensures that the mod’s behaviour is reflective of the desires of the community. Currently the main reddits are granted the pretty much unconditional status of being default, which undermines the whole idea of a ‘market’ of reddits.
Reddit staffer Keith Mitchell jumped in to the r/theoryofreddit thread, asking for and getting advice—a big hint that Reddit staff are taking the problem seriously. But let’s hope they come up with a solution—soon.
Reddit’s new CEO is in the midst of an AMA. From this answer to a question about the so-called Reddit hivemind, you can tell he plans to be a relatively hands-off manager:
[Managing] the community is kind of like beekeeping. There is absolutely no way to get it to do what you want, so you can’t really manage or control it, you are mostly just trying to set up ways for all the bees be happy … And if they are happy, sometimes they will make honey, and everyone seems to like that (e.g. positive change for the world, charity drives, etc). Occasionally something will piss off the bees (sometimes it’s something you do, or something someone else does) and they will swarm around and sting you. You really can’t do anything about it, but also the swarm eventually goes away. And like beekeepers, you just need to be wearing decent protection, or have a thick skin. I grew up in the internet age of trolling and flaming, so it’s pretty okay for me.
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