Reddit has announced a new direct chat system, which will function similar to the way messages do on Facebook – a move which has raised concerns among some Reddit users.
As you can see, the new Reddit chat layout (on desktop) provides a pop-up prompt at the bottom right of screen, similar to Facebook, where you can engage with other users in real-time. Up till now, Reddit has utilized a basic private messaging function via inbox, which this new, instant connect system will eventually replace entirely.
Reddit’s starting off small – wary of upsetting the balance of their dedicated user base – and will only allow 1-to-1 messages to begin, before rolling out group messaging in future.
In some ways, it seems like a basic progression for the platform. Most other social networks have direct messaging, and the growth of tools like Facebook Messenger underline that there’s a definite consumer desire for more direct connection – so really Reddit’s just working with the trends. But given the vocal nature of Reddit’s audience, any change needs to be approached with some caution.
Reddit currently has more than 250 million monthly active users – more than both Pinterest and LinkedIn – and is a core originator of a wide range of web-based trends. And where Reddit has seen, and is seeing, most success is in its user-curated communities - rather than relying on algorithms to uncover the best content, Reddit’s system is based on human intervention, which, one could argue, has enabled them to provide a better experience, and to uncover the most relevant content, something other platforms have struggled with through reliance on machines.
But the new messaging interface may also be a prelude to the full ‘Facebook-ification’ of Reddit. The platform launched user profiles earlier this year, and has hinted at a larger re-design, which may include a Facebook-like News Feed. Should those changes come to pass, you can bet that Reddit’s user communities will stage their own form of revolt – they’ve already been critical of the increased censorship on the platform and other moves designed to better align Reddit with mainstream systems.
But Reddit is also a business, and as a business they need to make money. Acquiring more users is key to this effort – while those that use Reddit are aware of its value, they need to also be able to showcase those benefits to non-users in order to win them across. It’s similar to the growth challenges faced by Twitter and Snapchat – Twitter’s been working to simplify its app, while Snapchat is looking to move away from its privacy and ‘in-crowd’ focus.
Reddit has the same – but while guiding more ‘normies’ to the platform makes sense for the company, it’ll undoubtedly upset current users, and may see them filter off to other networks.
Aside from attracting new users, the update also marks another step in Reddit's efforts to claim more of the traffic its site generates. Last year, Reddit started hosting its own images, dealing a blow to Imgur, where many users had been posting their accompanying visuals. It's similar for sharing - right now, many people use existing chat apps to share Reddit content. This change could keep more of that engagement in house, which could drive engagement benefits.
In many respects, you’d have to think that Reddit must be on the radar of other tech companies as a possible acquisition target. Reddit, itself, has been slowly integrating more paid ad options, but could benefit from the ad tech of, say, Facebook to better target and monetize its audience.
In turn, Facebook could gain control of one of the web’s key content originators, with its own, in-built team of human curators to help filter its feeds. It may not be a perfect match, but given Reddit’s popularity, and opportunity, it must be on the table as a possible target.
Reddit chat is currently in beta, with a full rollout expected during the first quarter of 2018.