Facebook? Why not Reddit?

Please excuse my lame attempt to connect this blog to the Zoidberg meme.

Social media are spaces in which people can connect with others online or in some technological medium.  Today, many academic discussions about social media seem to gravitate towards MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.  Will Richardson, the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, discusses two ways in which users use social media: “friendship-based” and “interest-based” (131).  Friendship-based is pretty straightforward; people engage in social media to stay in contact with people they met, and use platforms like Facebook to communicate with others.  Friendship-based social media usually relies on profile pages that display one’s identity and a group of friends to begin with.  Richardson also argues that Facebook also helps users form groups or other social networks based on interests.  This leads to individuals learning through a self-build network created by connections with other people.  Furthermore, Richardson’s definition of interest-based learning applies more to a newer website that’s on the rise: Reddit.com.

Reddit, as many people already know, is a social networking and micro-blogging site in which users can submit content and others comment on it.  Redditors (users of Reddit) can either “upvote” or “downvote” content, which generates a quantitative score for that post.  The more points a post has, the more popular the post is.  The posts with the highest amount of points go on what Michael Wesch (who I’ll discuss shortly) would call the “front page” (a term he used to describe YouTube’s most popular video sites).  Furthermore, comments can also be upvoted or downvoted; thus, users can view the most popular response to a post.

However, despite Reddit’s obvious connections to social media, I have not seen many scholars discuss the pedagogical implications of Reddit, even though it has been increasing in popularity over the past few years.  Furthermore, based on Michael Wesch’s and Danah Boyd’s discussion of social media, Reddit can serve as a useful tool to illustrate participatory, connective learning through social media.

Wesch’s talk, an Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, details how YouTube has become a site for users to distribute user-generated content, engage in discussions regarding various topics, and experiment with identity.  YouTube is a site of participatory remixes and remakes, that often go viral, and the recreated content serves as a celebration of this process.  Reddit is no different.  Aside from having a similar front page display on the home page, Redditors often post viral content (including pictures, .gifs, videos, articles, etc.) that get reposted and re-commented on frequently.  Furthermore, similar to YouTube, these users are usually not friends commenting on friends’ content, but rather strangers of an “invisible audience” (Boyd 120).  In other words, Redditors post for the public, and the public responds to the post.  This allows for what Boyd would call a “networked public”.  Boyd defines the networked public as a space for persistence in asynchronous communication, searchability for certain content, replicability of original content, and as already stated, the invisible audience.  For Boyd, social media is a site where all people from all space and all time can connect.   Reddit fits all of these characteristics.

Furthermore (and perhaps more interesting for scholars of social media,) Reddit is divided into what Redditors call “subreddits,” in which the content is categorized based on interest.  Redditors can find a subreddit for almost anything: gaming, sports, politics, culture, and more.  Each Redditor also has its own front page complete with the most popular posts.  (I should note that Redditors can friend other Redditors for easier access to postings and comments by their friends.)  Thus, Reddit’s community organizes itself into different categoriesThese sub-communities display a shared understanding that is mediated by its users, and defined by the types of discussions and content present within the subreddit.  I think this is what’s at the heart of Richardson’s excitement over social media – the ability to form discourse communities with the public.  This is also what Boyd notices in youths’ ❤ for social networks.  Boyd recognizes that youth desire to participate in a system with common understandings, interaction with other members, and discoursing in a mediated public (125).  Furthermore, the more interesting part of these interactions is that a Redditor’s identity is based more on the comments they make on a post, rather than a profile page with an image that constructs their identity.  A person’s wit, humor, intellect, etc. is the first impression.

The main question that I’m left with after this short discussion is why isn’t Reddit talked about like Facebook or Twitter?  I understand that Reddit is newer than these mediums and often has more viral content (like cute cat pictures).  However, Reddit is arguably a stronger example of how people write anonymously for the public, and create discussions based more on interest than friendship than other forms of social media.  Furthermore, I also wonder how composition instructors can incorporate Reddit into the classroom.  My initial reaction would be to tell students to find a topic that interests them on Reddit, and respond/engage in a conversation with the public, and see where that takes them.  Students can also create their own post on an academic subreddit, and see how the public responds to their content and ideas. I feel like there are a lot of possibilities, and interested to hear how other people may approach using this in the classroom.

What do you guys think?  I know I did not cover everything that can be said, but I’m also trying not to go overboard here.  🙂

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4 comments on “Facebook? Why not Reddit?

  1. I think you might be interested to know that there are actually a lot of students and scholars who do WANT to talk about reddit, and some even share their works-in-progress with the reddit community (Here’s one for example from a rhetoric student that I saw a few weeks ago: http://www.scribd.com/doc/137124122/Thesis)

    But you’re right about not (yet?) seeing a lot of scholarship on reddit making it into published journals. I haven’t seen anything in the journals we look at in this class, and most things I find on Google Scholar are just bad results from the algorithm mis-interpreting social-networking links on Journal websites as part of the content (Dear Google. “Share on reddit” does not mean that the article talks ABOUT reddit!)

    It may simply be that the popularity of reddit simply hasn’t reached a critical mass large enough to attract the “right” kind of scholarship that journals want to publish.

    Honestly, I think this might just be one of those “be the change you want to see in the world” situations, and those of us who think we see something academically awesome and unique (especially ethos-wise) in reddit should just get off our butts and write about it. 🙂

  2. http://www.reddit.com/r/theoryofreddit

    http://www.reddit.com/r/metareddit

    http://www.reddit.com/r/circlejerk

    http://www.reddit.com/r/meta

    http://www.reddit.com/r/metacirclejerk

    http://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheMetaLoop/

    http://www.reddit.com/r/RedditDrama/

    http://www.reddit.com/r/shitredditsays

    http://www.reddit.com/r/subredditdrama

    There may not be many scholars analyzing reddit, but reddit is pretty damned obsessed with itself.

    Personally, I can’t help but feel that reddit has already jumped the shark. Browsing without an account, or when visiting /r/all, it is clear that the average user treats reddit as simply another bloated crap-posting site akin to 9gag. There’s arguably still superior discussion in smaller subreddits that more closely mirror specialized forums, but at that point what distinguishes Reddit from any other social media system?

  3. Interesting that you characterize Reddit, the website, as a self-aware being rather than specifying the “Reddit community” or “Reddit users.” The main point that I was trying to hit was that there is a lack of research regarding how social media like Reddit (and as you point out, specialized forums) in comparison to Facebook, Twitter, and even Second Life.

    What interests me about Reddit, superior discussion and trivial banter aside, is that the discourse communities of these subreddits have the ability to place a quantitative score on others’ feedback, whether the comment was witty, smart, or showed a picture of a cat. This interests me more because I do not really see specialized forums enact this type of system (although I may be ignorant and simply do not go on enough forums). Furthermore, the mass media appeal of Reddit interests me; many people casually go onto Reddit, but the can easily find a niche or a specific discourse community. With other social media, I feel like a user has to go more out of their way to find a place that really fits. However, again, I do not go on discussion forums often, so I’d like to hear your input on the matter.

    • Ah, Tim, sorry I didn’t notice your reply earlier.
      I was being a bit playful with my “sources”, as although they’re not academic research, they’re a fascinating informal look at some of the concepts you discussed.

      As somebody who has spent way too much time following pointless trends in social media, there actually are a number of sites that do use voting systems based around arbitrary “scores”. Slashdot, Reddit, Digg, Imgur, 9Gag (I believe), and a number of “humor” production websites use voting as their key method of aggregation. Even Tube sites almost all rely on “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” style rating systems.

      What I meant by the front page of Reddit not being particularly worthwhile, I was referencing the fact that Imgur, Digg, Buzzfeed, 9Gag, and other aggregate sites are also featuring much of the same content on their main pages.

      Because of this, I feel like it’s the niche features of these sites that define them, and Reddit has one of the most diverse and user-driven obscure niche networks around. While it is true that this requires a time investment and navigational skills, it is also where it becomes possible to find the truly beneficial information and depth of informed and researched knowledge. There is a problem with subreddits developing generic overarching platitudes, but this is also a problem with any dedicated subform.

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