Look out Digg and 4chan, here comes Reddit! Or more accurately, Reddit has been been here for awhile, why have we been ignoring it?
Both of these sites are being replaced by Reddit, a four-year-old news forum with far more educated, better-behaved users than either, but with a culture that somehow rides the middle between Digg's slavery to the mainstream tastes of America's teen males and 4chan's obsession with inscrutable in-jokes and anti-humor.
Reddit got almost 300 million pageviews in July, compared to the 200 million Digg views in July that Digg founder Kevin Rose reported on his blog. So says an infographic posted on Reddit by Alexis Ohanian, one of the site's founders, who also asks why the media continually call Reddit "tiny" and "dwarfed" by Digg. What's more, traffic at Reddit, according to their Google Analytics, is up 24% in the last two months.
Julian Dibbell has written a typically thoughtful piece about 4chan and its creator Christopher Poole for Technology Review.
If 4chan's anonymity is good for anything, it turns out, it's good for lulz. Consider, Poole explains, how the fixed identities in other online communities can stifle creativity: where usernames are required (whether real or pseudonymous), a new user who posts a few failed attempts at humor will soon find other users associating that name with failure. "Even if you're posting gold by day eight," says Poole, "they'll be like, 'Oh, this guy sucks.'" Names, in other words, make failure costly, thus discouraging even the attempt to succeed. By the same token, namelessness makes failure cheap -- nearly costless, reputation-wise, in a setting like 4chan, where the Anonymous who posted a lame joke five minutes ago might well be the same Anonymous who's mocking it hilariously right now. And as the social-media theorist Clay Shirky has suggested in another context (explaining how the plummeting costs of networked collaboration encourage, say, a thousand open-source software projects to launch for every one that gets anywhere), the closer a community gets to "failure for free," the better its chances of generating success.
The account of how the folks at 4chan hacked Time's Most Influential Person poll is worth reading for their clever manipulation of the reCAPTCHA mechanism. But the author unfairly dumps on Time.com...it sounds like they knew the poll was being manipulated, did what they could, but were fully aware of the futility of securing such a thing from a large group of determined distributed attackers. (via waxy)
It's worth noting the difference in Time's approach to this hack and a similar one from several years ago. In 1999, some friends of mine and I conspired to place ourselves on top of Time's Digital 50 poll. Scripts were written, readers were enlisted, and a few of us soon passed the likes of Bill Gates and Linus Torvalds on the list. Unlike today, when Time not only let moot stay on the list but win the entire poll, Time repeatedly deleted us from the Digital 50 list entirely and none of us made it anywhere near the final listing. I'd say that's progress on Time's part.