The goal was not to have a functional business, but an exit, often via IPO or acquisition. I have begun to wonder if that explains what Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has been up to lately.
As CEO, Huffman has courted controversy with many of these moves, both within and beyond the freewheeling platform. But he has never been accused of outright villainy, at least not until this year, when he announced a plan that most observers might assume is rather administrative and vanilla: charging third-party apps, bots, and companies for using Reddit’s Data API.
Huffman has said Reddit isn’t profitable, and in Thursday’s interview, he said its annual revenue is less than $1 billion. Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, reported revenue last year of $116.6 billion.
To boost revenue and reduce costs, Reddit plans to begin charging other businesses more money for access to its application programming interface, or API, the software that allows apps to talk to one another.
That is expected to kill off apps like Apollo or RIF, formerly Reddit Is Fun, which some people use instead of Reddit’s own app to access and post on the site. Those competing apps often are ad-free.
Huffman said he has no sympathy for the competing apps that want to use Reddit’s content while avoiding advertisements, the primary source of money used to support the site.
Instead, it caused Reddit’s masses to erupt in protest, with many popular subreddits going dark to signal their opposition to the move.
The tech press has called Huffman a “tyrant-in-chief.” The reason? For starters, Huffman’s pricing plan would effectively shut down some beloved third-party Reddit apps by the end of this month.
More importantly, in the view of his many critics, the move would contradict the spirit of open collaboration and information sharing that purportedly makes Reddit what it is.
The Data API allowed developers to build their own applications on top of Reddit so as to enhance the user experience.
Now it will no longer be freely available, thanks to Huffman’s aggressive, seemingly abrupt efforts to make Reddit a profitable business—and to get Reddit’s piece from another new industry whose success depends in part on Reddit’s archives.
Reddit’s current policy says moderators may be removed by higher-ranking moderators or by Reddit itself for inactivity or violations of Reddit-wide rules. They may also remove themselves. Many have held their positions for years.
“If you’re a politician or a business owner, you are accountable to your constituents. So a politician needs to be elected, and a business owner can be fired by its shareholders,” he said.
“And I think, on Reddit, the analogy is closer to the landed gentry: The people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic.” Underlying much of Huffman’s early communications as CEO was the basic idea that Reddit was a bastion of a user-led community
Moderators have argued that the high level of control over their communities is well-deserved because of the hours of free labor they’ve put into making and enforcing rules on their subreddits. Any plan to reduce their influence might result in another backlash.
Huffman, who co-founded Reddit 18 years ago this month, said he believes the leaders of the protest may have had popular support when it started Monday but have lost most of it since.
Huffman seems confused about his competitors and about the risk factors of community moderation
Then there’s the removal of chat history, which could very well be another cost-cutting measure. After all, storing all those old chats requires server space, which requires money.
Maybe Huffman is right, and the outrage from the API changes “will pass.” Certainly that happened after the Reddit revolts of 2015. But some of Reddit’s other moves make me wonder if there’s blood in the water. And Reddit’s very different response to user outrage this time around suggests there may be long-term anger.
In April, Reddit announced it would start charging for third-party access to its application programming interface (API), which lets outside software interact with its website. The subtext for the new policy was clear: As large language models like OpenAI’s GPT-4—the force behind ChatGPT—become powerful technologies and fuel profitable businesses, Reddit wants to get paid when they’re trained on its data.
Steve Huffman's initiatives and projects have been crucial to Reddit's success, and his dedication to creating an inclusive and engaging platform is evident in his work. From revising Reddit's content policy to expanding the AMA series and supporting community-led initiatives, Huffman has been instrumental in shaping the platform into what it is today.
As Reddit continues to grow and evolve, it will be interesting to see what new initiatives and projects Steve Huffman will undertake to keep the platform fresh and engaging for its users.