The last time I logged into Reddit, the screen was filled with all sorts of junk that I have no interest in reading. I thought to myself that I need to unsubscribe from all these garbage subreddits. All I want to see on the introductory screen are the posts from the subreddits that I am subscribed to.
I hunted around and was shocked to find that there was no way in the Reddit interface to display the list of subreddits that I was subscribed to. “Strange,” I thought to myself. “There has to be a way.”
I Googled the problem and found that it was only possible to see the list by subscriptions by entering the following URL in my browser to get the old Reddit interface:
My first thought upon seeing the old interface was: “This is much better! Why the hell did they change it?”
From the old interface, I can see the list of my subscribed subreddits by clicking on the “my subreddits” tab. I was shocked to discover that I had been automatically subscribed to two dozen subreddits without my consent, and most of them were worthless topics like r/funny, r/gaming and r/videos. I unsubscribed from every single one of these subreddits, which I have no interest in viewing.
I thought to myself, “OK, problem solved,” but when I returned to the main page of http://www.reddit.com, I was confronted with this screen telling me that I must subscribe to more subreddits:
Reddit now refuses to display a list of recent posts from the subreddits that I have subscribed to. The only way that Reddit will allow me to see the posts for the subreddits that I want to follow is to go to the dropdown box at the top of the screen and manually select each subreddit one at a time to see its recent posts. Reddit is forcing me to subscribe to worthless subreddits that I have no interest in reading if I want to see a combined list of posts from all the subreddits that I want to follow.
This is total bullshit. I don’t mind Reddit displaying advertising, but there is absolutely no reason to force people to view topics that they don’t want to follow.
I’m so frustrated by Reddit’s horrible interface that refuses to show me the content that I want to see, that I’m thinking of creating my own web page that uses RSS to just grab posts from the subreddits that I care about. Not only will that allow me to see a unified list of the new posts from the subreddits that I have subscribed to, but I will not lend my eyeballs to Reddit’s advertising as well, so I am punishing the company.
The thing that I find so frustrating about this behavior by Reddit is that it is projected to make $119.0 million in US ad revenue in 2019. That should be more than enough for the company to run its servers and pay its employees, but Reddit wants to make more money. It recently raised $300 million in a Series D investment round and its market capitalization is now worth $3 billion, so the company thinks that it should be generating more revenue. Its heavy-handed method of generating more revenue is to force its users to subscribe to more subreddits and view more content.
Subreddit has 330 million monthly users, which means that it makes $0.36 per year per user. In comparison, Twitter makes $9.48 per user and Facebook makes $7.37 per user. In order to justify all the money that Reddit has raised, it needs to force people to view more content on its platform, and it is using coercive means to do it.
One of my frustrations with Capitalism is that investors are never satisfied with just making a profit. The profits always have to grow bigger and bigger. A company like Reddit isn’t satisfied with just providing a useful social service to millions of people and being able to pay its employees decent salaries. This need for endless growth leads companies to do wrongheaded things like what Reddit is now doing, trying to force users to subscribe to subreddits that they don’t want to read. All we can hope for is that so many people will stop using the service, that Reddit will be forced that change its policies, or that a new company will arise that replaces Reddit that is willing to respect users’ choices.
More and more, I find myself thinking that social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, PInterest, Snap, Instagram, Whatsapp, etc. provides too valuable of a service to society to leave it up to private business. The profit motive leads social media companies to make morally questionable decisions that harm society in the name of making more money or grabbing more market share. The problem is that social media has network effects that turns it into a natural monopoly. The more people who join a service, the more attractive it becomes for others to join it, so eventually it becomes a monopoly.
Governments can step in and break up monopolies and regulate the behavior of social media companies to some degree, but I can’t imagine what kind of regulation that would have stopped Reddit from trying to force its users to view more content. Government can also create social media services which are financed by tax payers, but that introduces all sorts of problems with governmental spying and restriction of free speech.
A better solution in my opinion is to create non-profits whose mission is to promote better communication in society. In order to pay for their costs, these non-profits would generate revenue from advertising, but it would be within reasonable bounds, since the goal is promote societal good, rather than generate profits. The model for this kind of non-profit would be the Mozilla Foundation, which makes enough money from advertising to pay its costs, but balances that need for revenue with its goal of promoting a freer and more open internet.
The cynic in me sees little hope of non-profits replacing Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google and all the other companies that provide social media services in the modern age. Nonetheless, the current system of for-profit social media provides all sorts of perverse economic incentives that lead to bad consequences for society. Public outrage thus far has done a very poor job of regulating the actions of social media companies.