Reddit Takes on Gawker, BuzzFeed With Upvoted

The front page of the Internet is getting its own front page. Last night, Wired [note]Wired‘s parent company, Condé Nast, has a majority stake in Reddit.[/note] broke the news that Reddit, the immensely popular and controversial message board, was about to launch its own website, Upvoted, which will aggregate Reddit’s best content in a package that is friendly to both users and advertisers.

The move comes at a delicate time for the company, which is still reeling from a highly publicized user rebellion that shut down much of the site and resulted in the resignation of former CEO Ellen Pao[note]A separate Wired article deemed this episode an “epic meltdown.”[/note]. Much of the public anger was a result of small-scale attempts to reel in what had become an unruly and often vehement community of groups that, despite their relatively small size, had come to define the site’s reputation as a place for the worst kind of online hatred. Between reprehensible subreddits like r/rapingwomen and r/coontown—which have since been banned—and an intimidating user interface, the site was scaring off new users and advertisers alike.

In comes Upvoted, which will explicitly distill the best parts of Reddit—incredible stories, discussions, and creativity that often end up aggregated on sites like BuzzFeed and Gawker—into an editorial venture meant to make advertisers and users feel comfortable.

Launched today, Upvoted features a variety of stories and formats. Take this article about how people spent their last day before a suicide attempt, or, for a less heavy example, this piece on what would happen if a black hole formed in your pocket. There’s even a weekly feature showcasing the art of popular user Shitty_WaterColour.

There seems to be only one prerequisite to publishing: Reddit users must influence every single piece of content. Sometimes, the editorial team will simply add an introduction and then copy in existing text; other times, they will interview outside sources to answer a user’s question user; and in some cases, they just present a Reddit thread in a journalistic style. Experimentation seems to be the name of the game so far.

Reddit and the rapidly changing content landscape

Despite the surprise debut, the website has been a long time coming. Reddit has produced a podcast, also named “Upvoted,” since January, and had launched a weekly newsletter in April. And for months, employees had been talking about their pivot to content. Alexis Ohanian, Reddit’s co-founder, discussed the company’s changing posturing this June with AdExchanger:

The majority of content on Reddit became stuff users were creating themselves, not just linking to. That was a huge shift, and in response to that, especially over the last six months, we have been trying to build as many tools as possible for publishers, who clearly love our content, [using tools like] “embeds,” but also enabling new ways for us to reach our current users and new users wherever they want, whether that’s video or audio. We have this unfair advantage because we are as much a technology company as we are a media company, and we want to take advantage of it.

That last line is especially true: Reddit, along with other social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, is as much a media company as it is a technology company. The difference here is that Reddit is among the first to launch its own editorial venture—but it’s not the first.

Tumblr, which shares a resemblance with Reddit—including NSFW sections, a dedication to free expression, and a confusing interface—launched Storyboard back in 2012 to help package and share all of the unique content published on the platform, hiring seasoned journalists to make it work. In other words, Storyboard was very similar to Upvoted, except that Storyboard mostly published on partner sites like The Daily Beast, Time, and New York magazine[note]A move that is pretty much unthinkable now that social media has come to dominate distribution in the media industry.[/note].

The problem? Storyboard was shuttered after only a year due to poor results. This insightful Pando article attributes the failure in part to the odd relationship between social media and editorial—they may seem similar on the surface, but quality editorial can often run counter to social media’s core competencies of openness and sharing.

Reddit will have to keep all of these factors in mind as Upvoted matures.

What this means for brands

Like other social media companies, Reddit wants to host native content. In fact, Ohanian explained that publishers came to them with that exact request:

After Facebook announced the New York Times/BuzzFeed Instant Articles thing, we started getting inbound from people saying, “We want to publish articles directly on Reddit.” We had honestly not thought about it, but it’s given us the confidence to start exploring it from a product standpoint.

Whether Reddit is still considering creating such a product is under wraps, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a product similar to Instant Articles in Reddit’s near future. Upvoted is just the latest example of how content distribution, and the Internet itself, continues to rapidly evolve.

Soon, media companies will publish their content directly on every major social media network. They already do it on Snapchat Discover; Facebook Instant Articles is still in testing but should be released soon; Twitter is making similar moves; Apple has Apple News; and LinkedIn and Medium already suck up much of the content that would traditionally come from blogs.

Behind all these moves toward proprietary publishing are attempts to consolidate power and user attention, which, in turn, will bring in more advertiser money[note]Reddit intends to run only native advertising on Upvoted.[/note]. Upvoted won’t have any separation between editorial and advertorial creation, making Reddit the latest in a long line of media publishers to break down this traditional barrier. The company has also discussed creating video campaigns for brands that could live on Reddit and the wider Internet much like a a traditional ad agency would, which parallels Facebook’s Anthology initiative.

Reddit’s power play also highlights one of the big draws of proprietary publishing over an open web: more control over the content itself. Facebook, for example, has never been a place for free speech, which is one reason marketers love it. Similarly, Upvoted will provide a more sterile, controlled arena for Reddit to woo advertisers. The fact that the site features no comments or upvoting (despite the name) is particularly telling of just how much control Reddit wants.

Overall, Upvoted is a sign of the times more than anything—and a signal that Reddit has entered an increasingly heated arms race to control where and how content is seen and distributed. Make no mistake, the war for content is only getting started.

Image by FastCompany

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