Reddit CEO Expresses Strong Opinions on Protests, Moderators, and Third-Party Apps

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman is standing firm in the face of protests against API changes made by the platform. In interviews with The Verge, NBCNews, and NPR, Huffman defended the company’s decision to charge third-party apps, stating that the API was not designed to support these clients.

The Reddit co-founder also discussed protesting moderators, changes to site rules, and profitability in these interviews. Despite facing strong backlash from the community, the CEO does not appear willing to compromise.

What’s happening at Reddit?

In April, Reddit announced plans to charge for its API without disclosing any pricing details. Earlier this month, Christian Selig, developer of the popular Reddit client for iOS called Apollo, reported that Reddit quoted him API pricing that could cost $20 million per year to run the app. Selig later stated that, as the social network was not prepared to make changes to the pricing structure, he was forced to shut down Apollo. Other third-party developers of clients like Reddit is Fun and Relay for Reddit also announced that they would be shutting down their apps on June 30.

The only exception made by Reddit was allowing free access to the API for non-commercial apps that provide accessibility features. The company has made agreements with apps like RedReader, Dystopia, and Luna, giving them exemptions from its “large-scale pricing terms.”

Starting June 12, thousands of subreddits went dark to protest these changes, causing a brief outage. Meanwhile, Huffman took a strong stance during his AMA and criticized Apollo and Selig. As moderators saw no signs of change, many subreddits decided to extend the blackout.

Protests and moderators

In one of the interviews, Huffman even referred to protesting moderators as “landed gentry.”

“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.”

He added that he plans to make changes to moderator policies so users can vote them out. Currently, higher-ranking moderators or the company itself can remove moderators. In an interesting twist, a r/Apple moderator posted on Twitter (via 9to5Mac) that Reddit was threatening to remove moderators who were staging an indefinite blackout.

In a blog post published by Reddit, the company references its Moderator Code of Conduct while stating that “Dissent, debate, and discussions are foundational parts of Reddit,” and it respects the right to protest. However, the rules also state that the company can remove uncooperative moderators.

Despite these statements, Huffman indicated that Reddit would not invest in paid moderators or make decisions that centralize power within the company.

This suggests that the company is content with having unpaid moderators monitor and maintain the communities. A study published last year estimated that these moderators spend 466 hours per day on maintaining the communities. The study also stated that if Reddit paid them $20 per hour, it would cost $3.4 million annually.

Third-party apps

A significant focus of these protests has been on third-party apps. Reddit has repeatedly stated that it will continue to offer free access to the data API, and the majority of apps, such as bots, will not have to pay as they are not commercialized.

In recent weeks, Huffman has emphasized commercialization and making Reddit profitable. Charging for the API is one step in this process. In the latest interviews, he mentioned that Reddit is “perfectly willing to work with the folks who want to work with us” and is open to discussing longer transition periods for developers. Huffman’s complaint is that some of these apps make millions of dollars each year using Reddit’s data, while the company itself incurs infrastructure costs of up to $10 million annually, as he told The Verge.

He informed the publication that he was the person responsible for the policy change regarding these apps within the company. It seems that API rules have been under discussion for several years.

“[Reddit’s API] was never designed to support third-party apps. We let it exist. And I should take the blame for that because I was the guy arguing for that for a long time. But I didn’t know — and this is my fault — the extent that they were profiting off of our API. That these were not charities,” Huffman acknowledged.

The numbers game

On Thursday, Reddit posted a blog post announcing that 80% of the top 5,000 communities in terms of daily active users are now open. Huffman told NPR that the protestors comprise a “small group that’s very upset” and that the “greater Reddit community” is participating to support them.

He added that despite these protests causing “a fair amount of trouble,” there has not been a significant impact on the company’s revenue. However, reports suggest that some advertisers paused their campaigns during the blackout. The company has been introducing more advertising tools to attract advertisers.

Regarding the impact of shutting down third-party apps, Huffman stated that 97% of people use Reddit’s site or official app to access the platform, and the company has a daily active user base of 57 million. The blog post also mentioned that 93% of moderator actions are taken through Reddit’s own tools, and the company has promised to add more features to them. The post, along with Huffman’s comments, aims to convey that the protests are led by only a small subset of users and do not represent the sentiments of the larger user base.

While there has been speculation about Reddit going public, the CEO’s focus is currently on profitability. He told The Verge that an IPO is “something we’d like to do someday,” but there are “a few things I’d like to do with Reddit before we get there.”

In response to Huffman’s comments, moderators are exploring ways to make blackouts more effective. Some communities are also setting up servers on alternative sites like Lemmy and Kbin.

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