Reddit, you have become stupider.
Those are the findings of Reddit user Corey Mohler. The software engineer out of Mountain View, Calif., crunched a year’s worth of data to come up with some compelling conclusions about the quality of discussion on the social news site.
He found that Reddit has seen a significant decrease in comment length since the site was created six years ago. Those comments have also gotten dumber — well, not exactly dumber. They score higher on readability formulas. So while five years ago you needed say, a PhD to make sense of a reddit comment, nowadays you just need to have gotten through middle school.
Mohler is a self-described reddit-elitist. “I think around 5 to 10 percent of my karma has come from complaining about reddit quality issues alone” he told the Daily Dot, referencing karma, reddit’s user-awarded point scoring mechanism.
So couldn’t his bias have influenced how he interprets the results? Complex writing hasn’t really got anything to do with good writing. Just ask Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Haruki Murakami, and so on. Couldn’t Reddit have just gotten a lot less pretentious?.
“I think there is no question that I came in to the project with a bias,” Mohler said. “The data of course can’t really be biased, but the write up is certainly coming from that perspective. So shorter comments with a lower reading level are equated to stupider, which is a conclusion not from that data alone but also my experience and opinion.”
That isn’t just his opinion. Redditors have been pining so much for the old days that they created r/TrueReddit — a home for intelligent discussion and a modern replacement for the way Reddit used to be. (According to Mohler, r/TrueReddit’s succeeded — the section scores higher than almost all others in reading difficulty and comment length).
That brings up an important point, and one that Mohler himself is first to emphasize. Sure, Reddit’s bigger sections may have seen a drop in great discussions. But the site is pretty well-designed to account for that.
“Reddit is effectively immune to being ruined by growth the way other online communities have been,” Mohler wrote. “The size of subreddits dedicated to intelligent discussion almost certainly are bigger now than all of reddit was back then [2005-2006]. So if you are on reddit for intelligent discussion and thought provoking articles, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding it, now or, in my opinion, ever.”
Mohler didn’t just look at comment length and readability. He also checked the frequency of Internet slang, insults, and swear words, and compared all his metrics across various sections of the site. And shockingly he found that Reddit’s gotten a whole lot ruder, too. One caveat to all this, however: Mohler’s drive crashed about six months ago, so all the data is at least six months old.
Here are some other interesting nuggets from Mohler’s year of data labor:
* Comment length has dropped 2-3 times in five years.
* Swearing, Internet slang, and insults have skyrocketed.
* You’ll be shocked to learn that sections devoted to serious discussions (r/philosophy, r/TrueReddit) tend to be harder to read than sections devoted to sharing pictures of naked people (or just pictures in general).
* Readers of the largest video section are really rude, while those in largest Christianity section are very polite — or, at least, don’t swear very much.
*Reddit’s home for self-mockery, r/circlejerk, is the filthiest, dirtiest, most foul section on the site. Just as its moderators hoped it would be.
*Reddit’s decline in smart discussion has little to do with the Digg demise last year — or Reddit’s recent surge in users. In fact, according to Mohler’s data, it all stems from reddit’s more humble traffic growth about three years ago.