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2012: The year of the reddit alien?

As we rely more on online aggregators for content, the power and influence of the communities built around them increases. Alyce Hogg investigates the phenomenon that is reddit.

2012 may be the year the social news website, reddit finally breaks into the mainstream consciousness.

Established in 2005, the site has seen its traffic triple since last May, growing from 7 million monthly unique visitors to 21.5 million. It records over 1.6 billion page views each month, and its general manager is presently the frontrunner of the TIME 100 Poll.

Its steadily rising influence is being felt across the online media industry, with Gawker noting earlier this year, ‘the networked communities of which Reddit is emblematic will have an increasing influence on politics in 2012 and beyond.’

A content aggregator made up of thousands of individual forums or ‘subreddits,’ reddit promotes itself as, ‘not a single community, [but] an engine for creating communities.’

Each subreddit ‘is a distinct community with its own purpose, standards, and readership.’ There are now over 6,500 subreddits with over 100 subscribers, and it is these communities within the wider base community of reddit that are ‘the secret to reddit’s growth.’

reddit is based on a model of community moderated content via user submissions which are ‘upvoted’ or ‘downvoted’ by registered users. By its very nature, reddit asks that rather than passively access and consume content, we become engaged and active members of its online community.

reddit and sites like it are effectively transforming and re-imagining the very concept of community journalism. No longer a term primarily to be applied to a form of journalism where audience is constricted by geographical locality, the online community journalism that reddit represents sees each subreddit becomes its own locality – a community of likeminded individuals, drawn together by the most niche and obscure of interests.

The reddit community has proven itself to have a powerful voice, capable of implementing action and change. The anti SOPA and occupy movements both derived a great deal of their momentum from reddit’s own brand of online activism.

However, reddit is far from flawless. Sections of the community can be crass, sexist and prejudiced. It has come under criticism from those that view it as having a mob like mentality that is, as Gawker’s Adrian Chen describes, ‘not well-suited for thoughtful, sustained participation in the political process…The thinking of the internet hive mind is shallow and frantic, scrambling from one outrage to the next.’

Yet, reddit is still very much a young community, grasping to find its voice and identity, and like it or not, the emerging power and influence of the community is undeniable. How they choose to wield that power remains to be seen.

Alyce Hogg is studying a Bachelor of Journalism with Honours at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter, @alycehogg.

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