A quick check-in on the situation at Reddit, which has seen a subreddit moderator revolt over its recent decision to increase the price of accessing its API, which will mean that some third-party apps will be forced to shut down as a result.
Reddit’s implementing its API pricing increase in order to address commercial usage of its data, which has seen Reddit info fuel a range of applications, including, most notably, the conversational models that are now powering generative AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
Given that these developers are profiting off of Reddit data, Reddit now also wants its fair share – but the side effect is that some popular, smaller developers, including the maker of popular Reddit reader Apollo, will also be impacted.
That’s sparked the broad protest at Reddit, which has effectively shut down some of its top communities - though Reddit says that many have now returned to action following the initial response.
As of Monday, over 7,000 subreddits had ‘gone dark’ in protest, by switching their communities to private. But according to Reddit, that number has since reduced significantly.
As per Reddit’s latest overview of the situation:
“As of now, more than 80% of our top 5,000 communities (by DAU) are open.”
That’s reflected in the data collected by Reddark, which is tracking the protest action, which, at the time of publishing, shows that 4,657 subreddits are currently still in private mode as a result.
At the same time, Reddit has also sought to explain its API pricing increase:
“We recognize that many core users enjoy third-party apps and use them to contribute to Reddit in important ways. Supporting these apps is not free for Reddit; they incur both infrastructure and significant opportunity costs. Reddit needs to be a self-sustaining business and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require large-scale data use from our API.”
Reddit further notes that many other platforms have opted to cut off third-party API access altogether, while apps that use its data, and don’t monetize – i.e. profit off it – will be able to continue to access the Data API for free moving forward.
Reddit has also shared its support for communities that are taking part in the protest, noting that:
“Dissent, debate, and discussions are foundational parts of Reddit. We respect our communities’ ability to protest as long as mods follow our Moderator Code of Conduct.”
Though that last element could also be a lever for Reddit to re-open at least some of the protesting communities, with Reddit management also sending a letter to some protesting mods, explaining that it may consider subverting protesting users, in favor of those willing to re-open the communities.
As per a letter sent to some communities (viewed by The Verge):
“If there are mods here who are willing to work towards reopening this community, we are willing to work with you to process a Top Mod Removal request or reorder the mod team to achieve this goal if mods higher up the list are hindering reopening. We would handle this request and any retaliation attempts here in this modmail chain immediately.”
According to Reddit, the protest action itself could be considered a violation of its Code of Conduct, which would enable Reddit to take such action in favor of reopening these groups.
Though that does seem like an extreme step, which could have ongoing consequences within the broader Reddit community, and Reddit still seems confident that the current disruption will pass, as users come to terms with the situation.
Which, based on the number of subs that have re-opened does seem to be the case. Though again, the long-term impacts of the protest could be significant, in regards to eroding moderator trust, and souring key relationships.
Reddit relies on a small army of volunteer moderators to keep the site going, and it needs these individuals on its side in order to maintain site reliability and performance. Which is a pitfall of Reddit’s human-powered system - and it could be that Reddit may also consider looking to more algorithmic moderation as an alternative in order to avoid future disruption along similar lines.
That would be an even more drastic measure, and I doubt Reddit could realistically go down that path. But again, such a heavy reliance on volunteers does present a significant business risk, and as Reddit looks to increase profitability, it will need to factor such into future decisions, and how it deals with protests that could impact performance moving forward.
Essentially, it does seem that the latest protest will calm down, as Reddit expects, and that things will get back to normal at the app sometime soon. But the longer-term toxins that this has stirred into the Reddit mix could end up having more significant impacts.