Alexis Ohanian
Co-founder, Reddit
05:04

Reddit’s Community Culture in Context

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Alexis Ohanian calls the world of web community sites "a kind of brotherhood"—and pokes a little bit of fun at his company’s rivals.

Alexis Ohanian

Alexis Ohanian is the co-founder of the social news aggregation website Reddit. Shortly after graduating from UVA, he and classmate Steve Huffman founded the company with startup capital from Y Combinator, and in 2006 it was bought by Condé Nast. Ohanian stayed on for three more years until he retired to pursue a Kiva fellowship in Armenia. In 2009 he founded Breadpig, an "uncorporation" that creates and sells "geeky products" and donates all its non-sustainable profits to charity.

Transcript

Question: Do you read Digg?

Alexis Ohanian: I do not.  I could have made a really bad joke right here, but I’m not going to. If I were a snarky Reddit user though, I would say, hypothetically, that that would just be like reading Reddit’s Front Page a day later.  But I’m not going to go there.  

Sorry, that’s for you Reddit, you’re welcome.  There you go. 

Question: What do you think about the role of “snark,” or sarcasm, on Reddit?

Alexis Ohanian: I like it.  I like sarcasm.  I like snark.  I feel like I am ripping off Conan here. But I know at some point he said something that I really agreed with.  Actually there are lots of points which he said things that I agree with, but in particular he said that he was really – he really hated cynicism and that he didn’t want people to be cynical or at least, I mean, be you. Don’t get me wrong.  But that and I think in a similar way, while I love snark and I love sarcasm, these are certainly different flavors of a more broader kind of cynicism.  And so it’s fun and it’s entertaining on reddit and what not, but I’d like, I don’t know, I am a much more hopeful person.  And I get a lot more out of the other side of it.  I get a lot more out of the – the touchy feely stuff that happens on reddit.  And while I love the snark and it makes me laugh, I am happy that there is this wonderful balance that plays out on reddit.  Or you can get both.  I enjoy having my cake and eating it too, especially if it’s not a lie, and chocolate.

Question: Are you aware of Reddit Gone Wild, the section of the site where users post pictures of themselves naked?

Alexis Ohanian: I actually – I met the redditor at our San Francisco meet up who made it, or at least he claims to have started it.  And I don’t know how many people would claim to have started reddit Gone Wild and be lying.  

I don’t spend a lot of time on it.  I mean, except when I’m posted photos of myself.  It’s,  mean it’s another – it is another example, like I am a – the ‘Ask me Anything’ reddit of a user created reddit that the six of us would have never, ever, ever come up with.  And I think had we come up with it, it probably would have failed miserably because it didn’t have that – it didn’t feel organic because it wouldn’t have been.  It would have been one of us **** going, “hey, we created this reddit where you can post photos of yourself partial or fully nude.”  And that would have been **** for all kinds of reasons.  But because a redditor did it on his own volition, it actually turned out to be extremely, extremely popular.  I am probably not allowed to say anything else about that reddit now, so let’s move on to the next question.

Question: Do you keep up with what’s going on in other web communities like Digg and MetaFilter?

Alexis Ohanian: Yes.  I mean, in a lot of ways – so we always try to be very good at reddit about knowing about competition, but not caring.  And in the broadest sense, our competition has always been – excuse me.  Our competition has always been anything that is wasting your time when you’re bored at work.  In a broad sense.  We want people to come to reddit to find out what’s new and interesting online, but we realize they usually do this when they should be working or perhaps when they start or when they end their day.  And that’s always been the goal.  And so anything else that can distract you away, even if it’s Farmville and planting carrots is considered something that we need to be more interesting than.  

But you know, it’s an interesting – it is a nifty kind of brotherhood of all these communities because, yeah MetaFilter has its own very, very distinctive community, Digg, the same case.  Fark, I’ve gotten pretty chummy with Drew over the years and that is a community that still blows me away because in internet years – internet years, well they’ve been around for a decade, a decade plus I think at this point.  And that’s just mind-blowing to think of a website being around and a community being around for that long.  And so at this point, Fark has  now seen, not quite a generation, but they’ve seen multiple cycles of colleges, say, start and end and we’ve just begun that cycle where we had Freshman who were starting reddit who have now since graduated and sort of entered the workforce.  But Fark has seen this for a lot longer and it’s been – it is fun seeing all these different sections of the internet, all these different communities.  

Reddit is really the only one that I know well.  I can’t really speak to the others.  I mean, I will definitely stand by my statement that and that phrase, the community of Reddit’s size; it has one of the strongest communities.  It seems ridiculous, but for a site with that much traffic, the sense of community I think is stronger than anywhere else I’ve seen.  And that’s really demonstrated in all the stuff that they end up doing.  I think to some extent, all of these communities are fairly geeky, in term of some more qualitative things, but these are folks that for one reason or another want to spend a lot of time hanging out, either chatting with folks about what’s new and interesting online, or just discovering for themselves what the latest interesting thing is.  So, we’re all sort of cut from the same cloth of losers who spend way too much time in front of a computer.  Now, I’m kidding.  Actually I have my laptop open, you can’t see it, but I’m still looking at it.

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