Somewhere between news and memes: what is Reddit?

Reddit is a social news aggregator, i.e. a mixture of discussion platform and link distributor. It is divided into forums called “subreddits.” Users (the editors) are content creators as well as consumers and curators. Using a points system of upvotes and downvotes, the community determines which content and discussions are important and subsequently displayed at the top of the feed. The platform is largely self-managed, with moderators acting as forum guardians.

Reddit is primarily popular in the USA, where it has a significant loyal readership – about 42% of Reddit users are American. However, the website is growing in popularity abroad, although it may take some time before they start seeing comparable numbers.

The increasingly negative media attention on Facebook and the subsequent mass Facebook user exodus is perhaps an opportunity for social networks like Reddit to gain more traction. But what exactly is Reddit?

What is Reddit? The basic concept and development

Reddit describes itself as “The front page of the internet.” This term conveys their claim to a unique position. On the front page of a print newspaper, readers will find the daily topics and headlines that editors consider to be the most important. Reddit is claiming to be the first point of contact to the World Wide Web by calling themselves its “homepage.” When talking about the US market, these claims are quite believable – after all, the number of subreddits grew from almost 11,000 (2008) to about 1.64 million (September 2019) subreddits in just 10 years.

Reddit gathers social news in an almost unmanageable number of “subreddits.” These are founded by users and filled with content. The idea of the forum, based back in Roman antiquity, can be seen as the basis for the self-conception of the website. The Forum Romanum, for example, was not only a central place where people visited temples and public trials, but also a place of spiritual exchange. 

Modern internet forums developed from the bulletin boards of the 1980s. A forum usually deals with a main topic and divides it into sub-topics. Therefore, there are directoriessubforums – that Reddit refers to as subreddits. Users can use a subreddit to create new posts on a specific topic. These can be questions and requests for help, but also informative news articles, images, and videos. Humorous and creative contributions and controversial discussion topics are not uncommon.


Forums on the Reddit platform are called subreddits. Reddit regulates the forum name like this: “r/Forumname” (for example: “r/AskReddit”). The user determines the content on the user profile as moderator, like in a subreddit. However, username spellings differ: “u/Redditor.”

Reddit: a brief history

Reddit was founded by Alexis Ohanion and Steve Huffman, who met at the University of Virginia. Shortly after graduation, they wanted to develop a site called “MyMobileMenu” with the help of startup investors Y Combinator. The idea was ultimately blocked, but they had set their foot in the door. Just a short time later, they received startup capital from the same company for their new project “Reddit: the front page of the internet.” Psychiatrist Christopher Slowe and the now deceased internet activist Aaron Swartz, along with his company Infogami, joined the development team.

Despite personal setbacks, the young founders continued to work on the project. Condé Nast publications bought the company and kicked Swartz off the project shortly afterwards. The other founders also went their separate ways once their contracts were over.

While the developers initially used dummy accounts to boost activity on the site, Reddit already had 10,926 subreddits by 2008. In 2011, the number climbed to 60,191 and Reddit climbed out of Condé Nast’s shadow, and became independent under their parent company Advance Publications. A year earlier, the platform introduced the Reddit Gold subscription model. Gold editors get access to the “Lounge,” a restricted subreddit, and a larger range of functions for around $4 per month.

Reddit became one of the first major websites to accept payment in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin for their paid subscription Reddit Gold, gifts, and Redditmade (subreddit fan articles that are for sale).

The company and its founders attracted a great deal of attention when they protested against the US draft law against online piracy (SOPA) in 2012, and, together with well-known websites like Wikipedia, took their entire domain offline in a “blackout.

The site administrators are still committed to protecting freedom of speech and their users’ anonymity. This is expressed both in the page guidelines and in the Reddiquette (etiquette for Reddit). Transparency is provided by the transparency reports.

Steven Huffman returned as CEO in 2015. At that time, Reddit employed about 100 people, climbing to 230 in 2017. During these years, the platform has consisted mainly of American users. However, foreign language communities are starting to pop up, and the Reddit interface is available in over 90 languages – including “Pirate Slang” (“Arrrrrrrrrrrrrr”).

Reddit’s technical basis

The website was originally written by Common Lisp, but before its release, the development team switched to Python. The web framework, built by Swartz for Reddit and now available as open source software, has also been replaced with the successor Pylons. From 2008 to September 2017, Reddit’s source code was officially available as open source on GitHub. According to their own statements, however, the company had moved so far from their slapdash beginnings that lengthy public code developments were now hindering new product launches. Nevertheless, Reddit continues to use open source tools, which is in line with the company’s policy.

In 2009, Reddit migrated to the Amazon Web Services cloud, and since 2012, Amazon CloudSearch has been taking care of the internal search. The free NoSQL database management system Apache Cassandra is increasingly used for the cloud database.

The open source software RabbitMQ is a message-oriented middleware and supports Reddit’s offline processes.

The official Reddit app is available for Android and iOS. Since they are not particularly popular in the community, some competitors have established themselves, including Boost, Relay, BaconReader, and Sync. For tablets running on Android, there is Reddita. There is even an (unofficial) cross-platform app for desktop PCs: Redditr.

How does Reddit work?

Forums live on user-created content. Community members create subreddits on specific topics and set up forum rules. Other users act as moderators who enforce these rules in the subreddit. Reddit itself already has a netiquette (called “Reddiquette”) and page guidelines. Each subreddit also determines its own rules that determine which contributions are allowed. Moderators delete comments that violate forum rules and can exclude repeat offenders from the group.

What is Reddiquette?

The word “Reddiquette” is derived from the suitcase word “netiquette.” It originated from the terms internet and etiquette and describes basic rules of conduct on the internet. Their basic tenant is that all users should feel welcome. On the one hand, it encourages participation in the internet and for that participation to be as polite as possible. On the other hand, netiquette recommends adhering to technical (security) standards and ensuring good legibility. Users should also comply with applicable law.

Here are some of the Reddiquette points summarized:

  • Remember there’s a person behind the screen
  • Read the community rules before submitting
  • Use proper grammar and spelling
  • Link to the original source
  • Search for duplicates before submitting
  • Report any spam you come across
  • So-called doxing (publishing third party personal data) will get you banned
  • Tag content that isn’t NSFW (Not Safe For Work)

Creating an account

Reddit users usually attach great importance to their privacy. VPNs and privacy discussions are often the order of the day. This is also important to the site operators. In a 2014 interview, the head of communication Victoria Taylor explained how Reddit informs its users as transparently as possible about geotargeting in banner advertising. Privacy and freedom of expression are Reddit’s core values. For example, those who engage in doxing are banished from the site. Registration can be completed in a matter of seconds:

  1. Go to
  2. Select “Register” at the top right
  3. A window will appear asking for your email address (this information is not required for registration, it is only used if you happen to forget your password)
  4. Click on Next – even without giving your email, you can continue without any problems
  5. Enter a username under “Username” (on the right side Reddit gives suggestions) and under “Password”, enter a secure password
  6. Click on the captcha to confirm that you are not a bot
  7. If you have entered your email address, you will receive an email with a link to verify it

First steps

Subscribe to subreddits

There is a feed of the top posts on the Reddit main page. With the new design, you can choose between a tile view, the classic forum view, and a compact version. The feed can be filtered through the tabs “Best,” “Popular,” “New,” “Ascending,” etc. Here you will be able to find potentially interesting subreddits by browsing visible posts. You can also enter a term in the search bar, and the results list will show you subreddits with thematic overlaps, as well as posts within the Reddit cosmos that use the term.


The old Reddit design is still so popular among users that you can permanently switch to the traditional list view in the profile settings.

By clicking on the join button, posts from the subreddit in question will be included in your feed. By filtering for new posts, you can be one of the first people to rate a post and potentially bring it to the top of the most popular posts of the day.

Posts and points

Members can publish posts within a subreddit. If there is no subreddit on a topic you are interested in, you can create a subreddit yourself. Posts consist either of a link or of their own writing.

On the Reddit homepage, you will see a pen next to your name. Clicking on it opens a new window. You can decide whether you want to write your own text or prefer to share an image or link with others. In addition, you have to select a subreddit that you want the post to appear in. Think of a headline and select a tag that categorizes the content.


Before you publish a post, check again to see if it adheres to the Reddiquette. If you post in a particular subreddit, you should also observe its own rules. Some subreddits, for example, only accept posts accompanied by an image, others have certain formatting rules for headlines in order to maintain the overview in the forum. If you violate the forum rules, the moderators may delete your post. In the worst case, you could get blocked from the forum or even from the whole of Reddit.

If other users write comments under your post, it will then develop into a thread. Traditionally, forums arrange the resulting conversations into a tree structure. Users can see at a glance which answer belongs to which comment. The first post is called the “Original Post” and its author is called the “Original Poster” (often abbreviated to OP in comments).

In the image above, you see a post and a discussion underneath. The link links to Imgur, an image-sharing platform. The now independent hosting site was a gift from developer Alan Schaaf to the Reddit community.

A special feature of how Reddit works is that users rate posts and comments with karma points. The karma point are to the left of the title. Posts with many points are further up on the start page and in subreddits. Points are not just a sign of popularity, but also of quality. This means that the best posts should be at the top of the feed so that every member can see them.

Not only the actual posts, but also the discussions can be voted on. Users use the arrows to the left of the comments to rate them - with so-called upvotes and downvotes. Each upvote is a plus point for the karma, each downvote a minus point. According to Reddit rules, karma points should generally be distributed according to whether postings contribute constructively to the topic. They are not necessarily an indicator of how many people agree.

Upvotes and downvotes are combined in the system. If you get more downvotes than upvotes, then you receive negative karma points for your post. The system minimizes comments with a score below the limit so that just the author’s name is displayed. However, readers that are so inclined can see more by clicking on it. The points are displayed to the right of the username (disguised in this case).

The sum of karma points from posts and comments is collected by editors during their Reddit lifetime. Anyone who has collected a lot of points is regarded as a trustworthy member who often gets involved in discussions. In an anonymous forum like Reddit (users rarely use real names), these points are also a quality indicator for selecting new moderators.


Reddit’s motto of anonymity and freedom of speech has many advantages, but it can also cause unpleasant feelings. If you feel harassed, offended, or threatened, you can report and/or block the user. Under an inbox message, click on “block” so that this user’s messages and posts are no longer visible to you. You can see the message option under each message and each link. This will report the link/comment to a moderator.

What are the most popular subreddits on Reddit? An overview

The first successful subreddits were the “NSFW” (not safe for work) and “Programming,” as well as “Science” and “Politics.”

The number of subreddits has grown significantly in recent years. Some of the early subreddits have practically become classics. Many users have been subscribed to these channels for years. They receive news updates from a closed community they trust. Animated discussions or snacks for entertainment are also included.


External websites such as Redditlist or Reddit Metrics provide additional Subreddit lists.

In addition to r/Announcements (official posts from the Reddit team) and r/funny (collection of humorous posts), “r/AskReddit” is at the top of the list with around 25 million subscribers.

AskReddit’s first rule is that post titles must consist of a clearly identifiable question. This should generally lead to a discussion. Personal problems are reserved for other subreddits. The “r/TodayILearned” channel (usually abbreviated as TIL) pursues the opposite concept. Users post there when they have learned an interesting new fact. Titles must always start with “TIL” and summarize the knowledge bite in a concise statement.

The forums “r/Politics” and “r/WorldNews” as well as “r/news” each deal with news, the former being limited to American politics. Other subreddits are reserved for sports, like “r/NBA” for basketball, “r/soccer” for football, and “r/NFL” for American football. Even gaming is popular on Reddit. The forums “r/LeagueOfLegends” and “r/gaming” are among the best.

Humor and shorts, which provoke quick laughs during your lunch break, are the most exciting part for many social networks. Of course, subreddits like “r/gifs,” “r/videos,” “r/mildlyinteresting,” and “r/funny” are in the top 20 and the names are self-explanatory.

The subreddit “r/IAmA” is another often-mentioned forum. The basic principle is easy to explain: people introduce themselves as persons with certain experiences and answer user questions. The experience or expertise can be everyday but can have interesting facets that many people don’t know about, e.g. “IAmA Lifeguard – Ask Me Anything.”

However, people who have been through something extraordinary – or apply for the highest office in the USA – are particularly popular. When Barack Obama gave an interview for thirty minutes during the 2012 election campaign called “I am Barack Obama, President of the United States” the Reddit website crashed due to the amount of traffic. The questions and answers he gave also made it into the national news program.

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