Popular Subreddits are Withdrawing from the API Conflict

In the ongoing civil war between Reddit and its own users, the widespread two-day subreddit shutdown protest has come and gone. While some communities have pledged to keep the protest going indefinitely, some of the largest channels have given in while Reddit CEO Steve Huffman throws gas on a smoldering fire.

In April, Reddit announced that it would be charging companies for access to its application programming interface (API), following the playbook that Twitter launched when CEO Elon Musk realized he wasn’t making enough money. Understandably annoyed by a sweeping change to the website’s policies—which likely only is only intended to line the pockets of early investors ahead of an IPO instead of improving the actual platform—subreddits across the website staged a two-day blackout protest. Moderators across Reddit set thousands of communities to private, but now, the company says that 80% of the top 5,000 are up and running, including some of the biggest.

At the same time, CEO Steve Huffman is doubling down on the company’s decision to gatekeep the API behind a paywall. Huffman compared Reddit moderators to landed gentry in an interview with NBC, essentially shifting the onus onto mods and calling the process of moderators coming into power undemocratic. Huffman said: “The people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic.”

Huffman’s hissy fit continues in an interview with NPR, when he called the protestors a “small group that’s very upset.” Huffman further tried to cast the issue as a moderator problem, claiming that users want to engage with their communities and protesting moderators are keeping them from doing so. As some subreddits are plotting to continue the blackout, Reddit and Huffman could very well turn to more nefarious tactics in stopping the protest.

In his interview with NBC, Huffman said that he may allow ordinary users to vote out moderators, whereas the current policy only allows higher-ranking moderators or Reddit staff to remove the volunteers from the position. Also, as The Verge points out, Reddit’s fact sheet on the API protest says that the company has not decided to force open communities that are still protesting, but that doesn’t mean it won’t take such an approach on a case-by-case basis. r/Apple is one example of a subreddit that wanted to continue participating in the indefinite blackout, but the moderators grew concerned about Reddit’s talk of opening subreddits and replacing mods.

“Along with hundreds of other subreddits including our friends over at r/iPhone, r/iOS, r/AppleWatch, and r/Jailbreak, we decided to stay private indefinitely until Reddit changed course by giving third-party apps a fair price for API access,” the mods of r/Apple wrote in a post yesterday. “You are seeing this post because Reddit has threatened to open subreddits regardless of mod action and replace entire teams that otherwise refuse. We want the best for this community and have no choice but to open it back up — or have it opened for us.”

A platform’s API allows third-party developers to create apps and products that use metrics and infrastructure from that platform, similar to programs like Twitterific and Tweetbot. One of those apps, Apollo, has become the symbol of this current Reddit resistance. Apollo is a third-party Reddit viewer that relies on the platform’s API to generate a certain browsing experience, and to avid Redditors, Apollo fixed a lot of the issues that Reddit seemingly overlooked, improving the overall browsing experience, collapsing comments with inline previews, making media displays better, and enabling a screenreader.

Apollo built a hefty fanbase of users who much prefer it to the Reddit mobile app, and founder and developer Christian Selig took to Reddit (of all places) to announce that the platform was charging $12,000 per 50 million requests to access its API—an unsustainable figure for most programmers. Unfortunately for Apollo, the protest comes too little too late. Selig announced the untimely demise of the app on June 8 in a tweet, and Apollo will officially close down on June 30. But Apollo is not the only casualty. Unddit, an online service that allows users to view deleted Reddit posts and comments, is no longer able to catalog comments. This means that deleted posts that were originally published after May 1—when Unddit was no longer able to access Reddit’s API—will appear to have no comments left on them.

For now, it appears that the Reddit protest will continue indefinitely at a smaller scale. Some users have even opted to think about more creative solutions to ding Reddit, like uploading 1-gigabyte videos of white noise to tie up servers and cost the company money on data tranfers. Unfortunately for the movement, some of the largest communities on the platform, which originally shut down, are back up and running. Click through to see some of the biggest communities that are in retreat.

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