Reddit is an online super-community with hundreds of millions of users, and has become in recent years an arbiter of what’s cool and what’s not on the web. If something makes it to the front page of reddit, where it is most visible, it will inevitably receive millions of views.
The way the site works is users post content – pictures, article links, conversation starters etc – and the success of that content is determined by whether the reddit community likes it (upvotes) or talks about it (comments) or just clicks on it.
Submissions are made to the relevant subreddit – a subject specific community – and should they prove popular, can rise to the front page. This is the reddit mainstream. And I scraped it.
Three times a day, for two weeks, in March and April of this year, I scraped the data from front page of r/all to see what is popular on reddit, and what that means.
Reddit is growing. It’s the 58th most visited site on the net (up 6 places from last quarter), and the 21st most popular in the US. Since it defeated Digg at the turn of the decade, reddit has established itself as really the only aggregate site in town – and with that comes power.
If reddit helps shape the internet conversation, what does the data say about reddit?
Perhaps predictably, r/funny is at the top. It appeared the most on the front page, received the most upvotes, and the second most comments because, naturally, it has the most subscribers (over 6 million).
Interestingly, a few of the more stereotypically reddit subs barely made the front page, or didn’t even at all. The site is known for its militant atheism, and yet that subreddit only made it to #25. While the site’s marijuana predilection could only reach #26 – no place with the best of the best.
Only two of the top-25 are substantially NSFW (Not Safe For Work). The sub r/WTF – wherein people post strange and disturbing things – is about a third NSFW whereas r/gonewild, the site’s most popular porn sub, is exclusively not for the workplace (unless you work from home).
The rankings largely stay the same when using comments instead of upvotes as the key parameter, except there is a notable rise of interaction-led subs like r/askreddit and r/IAmA. Askreddit, in particular, skyrockets to the top of the front page despite only appearing 9 times over the two weeks to r/funny’s 226.
As for the average scores and comments for front-page posts, r/pics and r/askreddit are respectively the top dogs. Where r/funny rules in front page appearances and accumulated points, it doesn’t even reach the top 10 in either category. That suggests that reddit’s biggest sub is more quantity than quality.
There is an obvious outlier amongst these broad and mainstream subs and that is r/leagueoflegends.
It’s a community dedicated to an exceedingly popular 2012 PC game. With almost 500,000 subscribers, it is the 41st largest subreddit but its community activity exceeds even that.
One of the moderators of r/league of legends, arya, said: “This subreddit is the largest unofficial community for LoL. We get between 500-1000 new subscribers per day I’d estimate. Big events do show an influx of new users and higher activities. I remember during Worlds when the stream shut down due to technical errors, the thread about it reached the top of r/all within minutes.
KingKrapp, another mod, said: “From what we’ve experienced, a lot of our users only come here and don’t really interact with the rest of reddit. We’re a very specific community compared to other big subs.”
It’s the success of niche-y subs like r/leagueoflegends that prompted reddit to introduce trending subreddits at the top of the front page in April.
Umbrae, mod for trendingsubreddits, said: “The thinking behind trending was essentially that there’s a lot of diversity to reddit, but that many of the visitors to the homepage don’t see or understand that. This gives a good hint to the breadth of reddit, while at the same time giving deeply engaged folks a new source of interesting communities.”
The initiative has so far been a success, with Umbrae reporting: “A lot of smaller subs have definitely gotten exposure.”
Only 20% of top subreddits are not and have never been default to new subscribers. Default subreddits have more subscribers (naturally) and more interaction, but they consequently have less community.
At the beginning of May, r/mildlyinteresting became a default sub. Its popularity, according to mod RedSquaree, is because “all the content is original, and chances are that nobody has seen anything posted here before. It also doesn’t aim to be amazing content, so expectations are low and people are happy.”
Of its new status, RedSquaree said: “Our growth was very steady until the recent increase as a result of being a default. [It has led to] more removals and a deteriorating comments section.”
It seems that a sizeable sub comes at the expense of a close community. Karmanaut, mod of r/IAmA, said: “Unfortunately, there isn’t a very strong r/IAma community. I think one of the main reasons behind this is that there is no core of submitters, because there are very few people with multiple submissions. Unlike most other subreddits, all of r/IAmA is original content and has to be done by the original person. And each person has a limited involvement. In its infancy, there was a smaller group of individuals who were very involved in the subreddit but since growing to its larger size, those individuals are no longer necessary to recruit AMA subjects.”
So those are the communities, but what do the actual posts say?
These are the most frequently used words in that two-week period. You can see where the interests of the site lie – there’s an inordinate number of mentions of Oculus, the VR company Facebook bought, compared to the MH370 drama.
Here’s the most popular post of that entire period. It may have only ended up at 4,003 karma but this post received more than 56,000 upvotes.
Perhaps it is what it always was, or what it was always going to be, but reddit is largely a chill place. People go on the front page for a joke, a pretty picture, to learn a weird fact, or take part in an amusing straw poll. It’s a nice place to hang out, it isn’t challenging. Its major contribution to the internet conversation is jokes, memes and silly things that will crop up on Buzzfeed a few hours later.
With trendingsubreddits, the site is attempting to change that in a way. Not so much the pleasant interactions, but the homogenized output. Perhaps by promoting the nichier subs, the front page will change.
Because, just as Katy Perry is not an accurate reflection of modern music, neither is r/funny representative of reddit and its many weird and wonderful subs.