Reddit is a mess right now and it’s affecting everything on the internet.
In April 2023, Reddit – the digital rabbit hole of endless discussions and cat GIFs – announced a significant change in its API policy, triggering thousands of community blackouts in protest.
For context, API – or Application Programming Interface – serves as a bridge between Reddit’s database and external applications, allowing developers to retrieve data, submit posts, and perform various actions programmatically. APIs are used for all types of different things. For example, Amazon’s API is why price-tracking services like CamelCamelCamel exist. There’s a lot more that goes into it, but basically, Reddit has maintained a free API for almost seven years – which means anyone building an application could request data from Reddit and use that to build their own application. Now, they’ve decided to put a paywall behind it.
For many years, Reddit became a significant resource of data for AI chatbots. Large Language Models are trained using social media resources like Reddit, so they can provide cogent responses to human prompts. That’s because Reddit is practically A digital Pandora’s box – there’s something for everything. If you want new music, movie recommendations, or even an opinion on something obscure – Reddit communities provide you with what simple Google searches can’t.
But Reddit is also useless without its users. In protest of these changes, thousands of communities on Reddit went dark, some indefinitely. So unless you were already a part of these communities, they have locked you out. The protest, called Reddark, included nearly 8,000 subreddits – along with six of the most popular subreddits like r/gaming, r/food, r/funny, and r/aww, all of which have over 30 million subscribers. And a few days ago, the site itself crashed.
In response to these blackouts, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, in an internal memo obtained by The Verge, told his employees to ‘block out’ the noise, believing that these blackouts will pass. So the company is adamant on its decision and it looks like Reddit users are too.
Even for non-Reddit users, this blackout has a larger effect than you think. Your everyday Google experience, for example. Google search doesn’t provide you answers to your questions, it simply leads you to other websites that can – and in most cases that’s Reddit. Even if you don’t actively use the platform, Reddit often appears close to the top of most search results anyway, providing useful information to users who may not have intentionally searched for it. With so many of these subreddits now private, Google is practically a barren land with potholes.
Reddit is nothing without its user community – but it’s also a business that has to keep up with its competitors, especially in a world where advertising alone doesn’t bring revenue anymore. Whether Reddit gives in first or the communities do – we’ll have to wait and watch.