from the upvote-the-enshittification dept
On Monday we wrote about the changes that Reddit was making to their API pricing, causing some services to shut down, and leading thousands of subreddits to choose to blackout (some temporarily, some indefinitely). Apparently, all those sites going private resulted in… Reddit itself falling over.
According to Reddit, the blackout was responsible for the problems. “A significant number of subreddits shifting to private caused some expected stability issues, and we’ve been working on resolving the anticipated issue,” spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt tells The Verge. The company said the outage was fully resolved at 1:28PM ET.
The issues started Monday morning, with Reddit’s status page reporting a “major outage” affecting Reddit’s desktop and mobile sites and its native mobile apps. “We’re aware of problems loading content and are working to resolve the issues as quickly as possible,” the company wrote on the status page in a message at 10:58AM ET. At 11:47AM ET, the company said that “we’re observing improvements across the site and expect issue to recover for most users. We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
That’s… not a good sign for Reddit. The details show that over 8,000 subreddits, with the backing of nearly 29,000 mods have participated in the blackout.
Moderators in r/ModCoord are keeping track of participating subreddits in an ongoing thread — as of Monday afternoon, 28,606 moderators are participating, and 8,300 subreddits pledged to go private in support of the movement. Some subreddits pledged to permanently shut down unless Reddit “adequately addresses” its users’ concerns, according to a post in r/Save3rdPartyApps. The most popular subreddits participating the blackout include r/funny, r/aww, r/gaming, r/Music, r/Pics, r/science and r/todayilearned. The collective userbase across all of the protesting subreddits totals 2.8 billion, which includes a significant overlap of users who subscribe to multiple protesting subreddits. Users can watch subreddits go dark in real time on Twitch.
As numerous people are pointing out, Reddit is discovering the same thing that Twitter is also discovering: when you build a service where the value is all the free content that users provide, you’re going to run into some problems when you suddenly start acting like you “own” all that, and you feel the need to put up paywalls for access.
Sure, it can work in the short term thanks to the sheer inertia of the existing giant audience. But, if we’ve learned anything over the last few decades of the internet, users are mostly okay if they’re asked to put up with some ads here and there in exchange for access to useful information and the wider community itself. But when you start to put up paywalls to access that community and information, including destroying the businesses and services that made your community much more valuable for free, well, at some point those users are going to realize they have the power to go elsewhere.
In many ways this is just yet another example of Cory Doctorow’s enshittification. Remember, the quick synopsis of the enshittification process is:
Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.
Reddit was good to its users for many years. But now, as it needs to IPO to keep its investors happy, it’s trying to claw back as much value for itself, and that means taking value away from the users. But the users are the ones who provide all the value.
And this bumps up against another part of Cory’s enshittifcation concept: it only works when switching costs are high. Social media can make that work. But I’m not so sure that Reddit has the sheer gravitational pull that social media has. Yes, there are social media-like communities on various subreddits. But, on the whole, the communities are built around topics, and it’s kind of easy to just move elsewhere (again, fediverse options Lemmy and Kbin are already looking pretty nice for that).
And, Reddit, of all sites, should know this. Because Reddit’s big break was when Digg went through an accelerated enshittification in 2010, with a revamp that was driven by investors at the expense of its users. And Digg’s users quickly decamped for Reddit, which quickly became much bigger, and much more useful, than Digg ever was.
So far, Reddit management still doesn’t seem to recognize what’s happening, and continues to dismiss these concerns. Perhaps users will stick around. Perhaps the alternatives won’t prove compelling enough. But there’s a real opportunity for users to show Reddit management that the value that they’re now trying to capture isn’t about Reddit. It’s about the users.