REDDIT’S GOT PROBLEMS. It can be a hotbed of hostility and harassment—even for loyal users. For the uninitiated, it’s hard to understand, use, or even see the appeal. And if you’re an advertiser, nobody would blame you for staying away: The borderlands of the web is dangerous territory in which to post an ad or have your brand be associated. Reddit has a reputation as the dark, unruly id of the Internet—and that reputation is hurting its business.
So, like any Silicon Valley tech outfit, Reddit is trying something new. Tomorrow the company is launching a standalone news site, Upvoted, to capitalize on what it does best: surfacing interesting stuff from the Internet. Except for Upvoted, the interesting stuff will come from Reddit itself.
In the works for the past year, the site looks and feels much like any other news site out there. It will have stories, infographics, illustrations, videos, and podcasts. It will include articles on news, sports, animals, and lifestyle issues. It will have its own website, upvoted.com, and a dedicated editorial team creating original stories. But, unlike other news sites, it will be a part of Reddit. And, very much unlike Reddit, it won’t allow comments on the site at all. (Nor, despite its name, will it have any kind of upvoting system.)
It’s something different for Reddit: an experiment. But most importantly, it just isn’t Reddit. This is more than another friendly news upstart. It’s a business move, following the community’s meltdown this summer over control of the site’s more offensive content, and it could serve a few key business purposes.
Upvoted is a way for Reddit to recapture some of the attention (and, ahem, traffic) that the site loses when other news organizations take stories from the site; it serves as a kind of introduction to the world of Reddit for non-users; and it acts as a testing ground for advertisers who may be hesitant to dive straight into advertising in a world moderated by unaffiliated, unpaid volunteers. Upvoted may be our first look at what the future of Reddit might hold. If it works.
The Front Page of the Internet, Distilled
Upvoted’s stories are culled, curated, and written by a small editorial team. Led by former Myspace editorial director Vickie Chang, the team of around ten will find stories on Reddit, verify the details, interview the original posters, and then write articles for Upvoted. At launch, the site will share around 10 to 20 stories a day, but eventually they hope to post closer to 40.
“Everything will have a direct tie back to Reddit,” says Chang. “I want to find the tiny thread that connects it back to Reddit.”
The site will also quite literally tie back to Reddit. Each story on Upvoted will indicate who the original poster for the story was and its original Reddit thread. The new Upvoted story will then be added to a Reddit forum made for this kind of content (/r/upvoted), where readers will be able to comment or upvote stories. Chang says that Upvoted content won’t get preferential treatment on Reddit itself, though it may be advertised on the site to help raise awareness.
Reddit has a reputation as the dark, unruly id of the Internet, and that reputation is hurting its business.
When asked about whether Upvoted would cover, say, stories more critical of Reddit’s leadership team—which has come up in threads, most notably earlier this year when Reddit’s new chief executive and cofounder Steve Huffman said the site would start cracking down on harassment—Chang says that nothing is “off the table.” “I don’t have any hard steadfast rules,” she says. “If it’s a topic of discussion, the community is always going to be our first priority.” (Chang has the same response when asked about some of the more unsavory stories on the site.)
More Ads, More Money
Reddit’s decision to launch an editorial site is, in part, an experiment to figure out how it can continue to grow. But it also seems to be, in part, about Reddit’s frustration with other news sites that find story ideas on Reddit. They’ll later repost the stories on their own sites, and, in essence, profit from Reddit’s community when the stories go viral.
“The stuff our community creates on a daily basis blows our mind,” Upvoted’s team said in an email. “Unfortunately, rather than telling that story, some news outlets take our users’ content and repackage it as their own. They don’t tell the backstory of our communities. We think our users’ stories need to be told, but with them at the center of it.” That’s exactly what Upvoted sets out to do. It also shows that Reddit is anxious to keep the eyeballs—and ad dollars—that go to other news organizations closer to home.
The site is also an opportunity for Reddit to test out new ways of bringing in ad revenue—but it won’t serve traditional banner ads or pop-ups. (“No one wants to see that,” Chang says.) Rather it will post sponsored content paid for and approved by advertising partners—and written by the same editorial team that writes editorial posts. “They’re going to be just as interesting as actual content,” Chang says. “It could be a piece on Tesla, a piece on how WiFi works, no matter what it’ll be good content—and it’ll just happened to be sponsored.”
And yet it does seem kind of weird for Reddit—a company built on the strength of its users—to launch a site that doesn’t allow comments. It does, however, illustrate Reddit’s larger goal to rise above its id to attract advertisers and new users—on Upvoted and, perhaps, eventually on Reddit itself. For a company in flux, Upvoted serves as one potential face—a banal, distilled, controlled version of Reddit itself. Upvoted is Reddit’s PG answer to the world—even if the world wasn’t asking.