Reddit is venturing into the news business, but it’s not taking its community with it.
Upvoted, which launched yesterday, is reddit’s attempt at sourcing the best of its community via original content and even original reporting. It’s meant to be a more welcoming counterpart to the untamed, unfiltered reddit community, home to regular tantrums that haven’t done wonders for reddit on the business side. Reddit, which has launched its own podcast and a handful of apps, is making a long overdue play to be a media company, not just community and content source for other publishers. Here’s how Upvote’s output shaped up on the first day.
Reddit has for years been the uncompensated source for much of the content on sites like BuzzFeed, which troll reddit’s front page for stories likely to grab attention. Upvote was in part born of reddit’s desire to better surface its community’s content within its own walls — something that was harder to do on reddit itself.
Reddit, however, is going beyond just reposting user content in a new form by adding original reporting with the original sources. For its big story on Tuesday, Upvoted asked a trio of suicide survivors to recall the days and hours leading up to their suicide attempts. The sources were found via a two year-old reddit thread, showing that reddit isn’t above digging through its archives for content. In another news post, Upvoted interviewed Omari Anthony Nyaega, aKenyan man who, in an affort to protect the orphanage where he worked, was attacked by a machete.
“Judging the content on the first day is like judging a TV show by its pilot, but what you see here is the potential,” said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus. “The fact that they’re willing to probe deeper into these stories and not just rip them off its promising. It feels a lot truer to the mission and its more valuable than curating what already exists.”
Despite having 200 million monthly users, reddit has struggled to turn its platform into a viable media business. That’s because those users, while engaged, are notoriously hostile towards — among other things — any changes that make reddit a better place for advertisers. Fortunately, reddit is starting from scratch with Upvote, where banner ads are nowhere to be found. Instead, reddit is running sponsored content, such as “The United Franks of America,” which is sponsored by food delivery site Goldbely.
Mark Book, VP and director for Digitas Studios, said that that move is a good first step for reddit, which has taken pains to make Upvoted a better advertising environment than its core site. “Reddit’s has that great community but you never know when you’re going to hit a homerun or strike out, which is very scary for most brands,” he said. “They’ve created a bit of a buffer with the new site, which helps, but I still don’t think it’s at the point where most conservative brands would be okay with being on there.”
Upvoted feels like a lovechild between BuzzFeed and the latest incarnation of Digg. Its stories are more likely to be illustrated with original art and subtle gifs than stock photography, giving it a kind of vibrancy not found on many news sites. Likewise, the site’s present lack of banner ads helps keep clutter to a minimum.
While Upvote makes plenty of nods to reddit’s community, it’s also kept that community at arms length. Users can’t comment directly on reddit threads and must click off Upvote to see the original reddit threads. That’s both good and bad, said Schafer. “The great things about reddit are the very things that can make it toxic,” he said. “The question is whether the core diehard audience will find its way to Upvoted, or does reddit have to build a new audience of less engaged people with less to say because there’s no place to say it.”
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