Reddit is a site built on the backs of user contributions and engagement, and their new publication Upvoted doesn’t allow comments. This is bullshit.
Today Reddit launched Upvoted, a site with a dedicated editorial team that will cull and curate from Reddit’s top content. Popular stories are verified, rewritten, and repackaged for the ad market. This is an attempt to side-step the issue of Reddit’s massive, opinionated, and apparently uncontrollable community by cutting them out entirely.
Reddit—and its parent company, Conde Nast—have been struggling with ways to monetize Reddit, and this year has been disastrous PR-wise. A much-publicized user uprising followed the firing of popular Ask Me Anything coordinator Victoria Taylor, and spiraled into the resignation of CEO Ellen Pao. Pao faced harsh criticism and harassment from Redditors; new-old CEO Steve Huffman has cracked down even further on contentious subreddits.
It’s not hard to see why Reddit would want to spin off their most valuable asset—a constant stream of attention-grabbing news, images, and personal stories—but the absence of commenting or even the ability to, well, upvote on Upvoted is glaring. Great content, guys! Upvoted seems to be smirking. We’ll toss you a link. Stories chosen for Upvoted do indeed link back to the original Reddit thread and contributor. But I can’t see regular Redditors priding themselves on being chosen. As the site’s name implies, this is basically Reddit’s version of Upworthy.
If Reddit really wanted to tell its communities’ stories, it should find a way to let the community participate directly. Perhaps by employing some of their army of unpaid, hard-working moderators?
Ironically, one of the supposed selling points of Upvoted is that it will prevent other publications from “stealing” Reddit stories and making them “go viral.” But isn’t Upvoted doing the same thing, by repackaging Reddit content with ads and removing it from the context of discussion? Former MySpace editorial director Vickie Chang will be running Upvoted, and she promises that the Reddit community will be at the center of every story. But that seems to miss the point. It’s like saying that the New York Times should write about how they organize their newsroom, rather than publish the news that its reporters are breaking.
So now Reddit users will get the privilege of having their (rewritten) stories displayed alongside sponsored posts on Upvoted. If you want to discuss or debate it, head back to your Reddit thread. GTFO off our shiny advertorial. Upvoted can deny any involvement in controversial threads on Reddit, but it also misses out on debates and further contributions, the ingredients that made Reddit famous in the first place. Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian writes in his Upvoted introductory post:
The best part of Reddit has always been you: The anecdotes you contribute, the photographs and illustrations you post, and the comments you leave.
Then Ohanian neglects to mention that there will be no comments on Upvoted. The double-speak here is extraordinary.
These days, many sites have decided to turn off their comment sections. While it may leave their pages looking bland enough for ad dollars, this is a serious loss to both writers and readers. Writing for a reactive audience keeps you on your toes, and the ability for users to engage only makes articles better. Comments are an endlessly insightful resource and excellent sounding-board. Publications like to pretend that if they switch off these sections, the nastier elements of the commenting class will just disappear. In reality publications like Upvoted are losing a far greater chance of engagement and interaction. I would rather read through the trolls in order to receive the wealth of fascinating and well-thought out commentary than not at all.
Currently, Upvoted’s top story, on thwarted suicides, hangs out next to a sponsored post about hotdogs. On the Upvoted story, there will be no user reaction, no personal stories shared, none of the best of what commenting can bring: an expanded and enriched experience of the base material. We get why Reddit is doing this. But they’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater.