Reddit is hard to explain. At its most basic, it’s a website like any other. There are users and those users submit and generate content. It would seem any other social networking site like Facebook or Twitter would fill this same need, with micro-blogging clones like Twitter providing a constant stream of news unmatched in providing breaking news and events from around the world. That’s where the differences start to become clearer. While Twitter and the like may give you something quickly, it’s not necessarily trusted content. It functions the same as a strong gust of wind, easily capable of carrying a seed to a safe place it can grow, or whipping a plastic bag from the gutter right into your face. The latter situation seems the most plausible an encounter one can endure in an increasingly modern world, leaving the wonders and beauty of nature to be reminisced about as though it never really happens anymore. I, for one, know I’m among a very small group of people who can even remember planting a tree recently. Continuing on with the “tree/seed” metaphor for an idea, Reddit distinguishes itself from a never-ending swarm of sites claiming to give you the latest and greatest by using a system that works through fostering a sense of community where the best ideas are given the space and the freedom to flourish into something magical.
While I’ve drank the Kool-Aid on this one (true), the times I find myself discussing Reddit with non-Redditors make me feel like I’m pitching a product rather than advocating a community of which I’m a member. I’ve become more careful in how I go about this now. When you find something cool on the Internet, you want more people to be a part of it. That basic premise and the rabid following that it has developed is what Reddit runs on. Reddit even gets meta on itself (with plenty of self-deprecation and a good sense of humor) when discussions on the site become discussions about the site itself (even having a meta distinction categorizing the smaller communities that make up Reddit called subreddits). To further the twists and turns and help someone who has plunged down the rabbit hole, the site’s blog offers up statistics, the state of affairs on the site and a plethora of useful information to those who come across it.
Now that you know about Reddit, what to do? Registration is quick and simple, provide your e-mail and register a username. Then you’re set to customize your experience. Right from the start, you’ll be “subscribed” to a few subreddits including pics, funny and atheism (one of the largest communities on Reddit). If you don’t like a particular community for any reason or just don’t care for the content offered, simply unsubscribe by clicking in the same area on the right you’d click to subscribe. Bear in mind, all communities are welcoming, particularly to those who are not a part of the cause or don’t believe in the subject at hand. Skepticism is vigorously encouraged, but hypocrisy is unforgivable to the community at large. Like anything else, be honest and forthcoming and enjoy the general “warm-fuzzies” that come from it. There are subreddits for every perceivable topic. Almost every major city, college, hobby, philosophy, religion and forum is covered. On the off chance it isn’t, simply make it! Reddit is as customizable as content can get.
What makes Reddit even more special is the ability to see the potential for change in the world and reward those who find the best ways to bring about that change. Numerous posts on helping find bone marrow donors, chemotherapy support, even a suicide watch subreddit bring people together in ways both inspiring and heart breaking. What Reddit does is simply show that you’re not the only one out there. For matters happy and sad, difficult or just plain adorable, there’s always someone willing to lend a hand or simply talk with. At the start of the millennium, once hype about the ever impending Y2K apocalypse died down, it seemed the next logical issue to tackle was the growing sense that too much time spent online made someone “antisocial.” Reddit has led the charge against this feeling of despair and discord that seems to haunt the Internet with each and every vitriolic post on some extremist website or child who is bullied on social media websites. It provides a safe environment for anyone to explore their options and share their stories of success and failure. While an extremely lighthearted site, there are times where Reddit comes together to fight injustices and bring help to those who need it.
Some instances have marred this helping hand, with occasional protests and actions taking on a mob mentality with some users a little too eager to sharpen their pitchforks. Sometimes it’s justified, other times have seen innocent people dismissed and trampled underfoot. With the site’s moderators stepping up their “patrols,” this type of behavior is becoming less and less common, in keeping with the site’s true core of upholding honesty and integrity in all posts and comments without sacrificing free speech.
While Reddit is constantly evolving and growing, with an astonishing 2,065,237,338 page views and 34,879,881 unique visitors in December 2011 alone, their main message of a free Internet and free speech above all else has never been stronger. Joining the Internet blackout against SOPA, Reddit’s blackout was as important a statement as those of Internet juggernauts Wikipedia and Google. With floods of calls, emails and faxes sent to representatives and government officials of all factions, Redditors made their voices heard loud and clear. Sure it’s a website where one can blow off some steam and look at pictures of someone’s cat chasing a laser pointer; it’s also a place of deep discussion and an even deeper search for knowledge in every aspect of life. Without sounding too preachy or declaring anything too bold, it’s becoming more and more evident that Reddit is the clearest case of a democracy in action since the founding of the United States. It’s a new frontier, a new forum birthed from necessity, but kept fresh by those who care most: its users.