Reddit is the 24th busiest site on the planet with 1.6 billion visits a month. People spend more than 15 billion minutes on the site each month, and that doesn’t even count time on Reddit’s apps.
That scope and scale means that running Reddit is a huge challenge.
Especially in today’s era of fake news, manufactured conspiracy theories, and propaganda, because Reddit is now ground zero in the culture wars.
I spent some time with Reddit CTO Chris Slowe at Traction Conference in Vancouver today.
John Koetsier: What is it like to run one of the busiest sites on the planet?
Slowe: There’s a lot of crying. The trick as CTO is to do it under my desk.
No … it’s a lot of fun, actually.
John Koetsier: You’ve been at Reddit for quite a while …
Slowe: Well, I was the first employee. I left in 2012 … came back in 2016, and I’ve been the CTO since 2017. The role is basically chief architect; I don’t code much anymore. My job is to slowly replace all my old code with new better code.
John Koetsier: You also manage security and site safety?
Slowe: Yes, I lead the trust and safety team. Our primary job as admins is to stay out of it … but every once in a while you have to call out the National Guard.
I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. What we try to do is police behaviors rather than beliefs
The beliefs side is up to people.
John Koetsier: How’s that working?
Slowe: Some things Reddit does better than anywhere else … we haven’t cornered the market on arguments, but we have cornered the market on good, long-form discussion.
For instance, we have the Ask Trump Supporters subreddit, where people can actually ask meaningful questions rather than just attack.
What’s missing from the larger web is that people generally don’t want to discuss, they want to bludgeon each other with words. That can be fun, but it’s not very productive.
If we facilitate intelligent discussions we’re doing our job.
John Koetsier: Are you starting to use AI to help manage the site? There’s been concern about phenomenon like fake news generation, QAnon, and other things like that.
Slowe: Increasingly yes. But, one of our longest-running mantras is let the humans do the hard part.
One of my first jobs was to built a recommendation engine … this was pre-Netflix. What we learned is that you can’t just bolt on a recommender: context is key. As soon as you let people know you’re doing recommendations, they will scrutinize you: why are you recommending this next to my content?
We are starting to operationalize models that do detection of harassment and other bad behavior, and surface them as fast as possible. You’re trying to minimize the exposure time … if you don’t notice it for two days, the damage is done.
This is hard because what is considered to be ‘normal’ behavior on, let me say, our more cat-friendly sites, is very different from what’s normal on our gaming sites.
John Koetsier: But this free exchange of ideas is critically important to you.
Slowe: Reddit is one of the last places that believes in the free and open web for the transmission of information.
John Koetsier: Thank you for your time!