Childlike curiosity breaks records

What's the fastest-growing Reddit community ever? Explainlikeimfive taps into everyone's inner five-year-old.


Kevin Morris


Published Jul 29, 2011   Updated Jun 3, 2021, 3:45 am CDT

Reddit user Brandon Elliott “just woke up” with an idea Thursday morning.

Why not start a community on the social news site, a place where anyone could ask any question about current events without fear of mockery?

The San Diego-based special-education teacher thought it would be a convenient way to juggle a few of his interests: education, current events, and browsing Reddit. So he asked the community what they thought.

To his surprise, redditors were more than interested in his idea. They loved it. His query rocketed to Reddit’s front page with tens of thousands of upvotes.

Earlier, he had created a subreddit, or section on Reddit which he linked to in his post: r/explainlikeimfive (“Explain like I’m five”), which he described as “a friendly place to ask questions without fear of judgement.”

As his post hovered on Reddit’s front page, subscribers flocked to the new subreddit at an astounding pace. Within five hours it had reached 10,000 and, by early Friday morning, over 25,000.

That’s the size of a small city.

“I cannot BELIEVE how popular it got so quickly, “ Elliott wrote in an email to the Daily Dot.

It is, in fact, the fastest-growing community ever. According to redditor stinkylibrary (and confirmed to the Daily Dot by Reddit HQ), no subreddit had ever reached 10,000 subscribers so quickly. The closest was gadget subreddit r/shutupandtakemymoney, but that took a week.

Elliott himself wrote the first post on the subreddit, a reference one of the biggest stories of the last few weeks: “Can someone describe the debt ceiling to me (Like I’m Five?)” That received more than 500 comments, including a few that lived up to the subreddits name (read the top comment here).

There are already hundreds of other questions, and thousands of answers.

But all that attention means the subreddit is going through growing pains that other communities worry about months or years after they’re created: an overwhelming number of submissions, off-topic questions, poor responses, and repeat questions.

Elliott said he’s moving fast to streamline things, though he’s never moderated a subreddit before.

“I’m learning on my feet here,” he wrote.

He’s already added six moderators to help him bring some order to the community.

Together, they’ve formulated four rules: no science questions (there’s already a community for that, r/askscience), no bias, and no blatant speculation. Answerers should cite sources whenever possible.

If those rules work, and if they can successfully corral the wayward posters, r/explainlikeimfive should be around for a long time.

That, of course, is just fine with Elliott.

“I’ve certainly learned that my students learn the most when they feel supported and feel like they can ask what they’d consider ‘dumb’ questions,” Elliott wrote. “That’s why I think it could really turn into a great part of Reddit.”

Photo by chefandren

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*First Published: Jul 29, 2011, 12:35 pm CDT