Reddit had a bruising week. If you’re out of the loop, you can read about it here.
It highlights the untapped opportunities in how our collective experiences are managed and lists of recommended reading/viewing are assembled. Large areas of opportunity include regression shaving, state-management, and dog-whistle cancelling headphones.
In general, the bigger the audience, the smaller the media. In Regression to the Meme, I argued that a lot of redditors want high jolts per minute with easy to consume content. Why read a three paragraph joke when you can get the same amount of dopamine almost immediately with a six word image macro? Larger audiences congregate around easy-to-consume content. Go wide. Go LCD. Accept that younger people have a deep seeded intolerance to ever being bored, ever.
In Who’s Downvoting You On Reddit, I proved that it were the powerusers who were curating what is seen. A tendency of regression to the lowest common denominator as audiences aggregate is an exploitable natural law.
It’s a problem/opportunity. Meme regression can annoy the long-tail, niche/specialized, audiences. Mass audiences move ad impressions. Regression shaving, the act of deliberately managing popular regression forces, can increase retention on a given property (see r/askhistorians).
It runs counter to the ad model of selling mass audiences. Of course, the way to win at the ad game is to refuse to play. Managing regression is a massive opportunity.
Sometimes I feel like animalsbeingjerks, sometimes I feel like reading about the origins of language. I can flip between both modes in the course of an hour. I’m still the same person. Just fluttering between two different states.
Digg, Reddit, and other platforms enabled the audience to manage their state by way of diving deep into the long tail and consuming lists of mass curated content. That’s rather clunky. It requires effort. And users, just in general, don’t like to expend much effort.
There’s a huge opportunity around mechanically scaling the way that user states are recognized, targeted, and managed for the maximum return on retention/attention.
Dog-whistle Cancelling Headphones
Commenting sucks for the same reasons that so many of our other collective experiences, like taking a bus or going to a movie, sucks.
The general public isn’t like you. Most people aren’t like you. Most people don’t have the same values you have. So, whether it’s clipping toenails on a subway or talking non-stop at the theater, you’re going to encounter a lot of general people that generally make your experience worse.
No matter how much moderation goes into an online community, some people who aren’t like you – like the racists – are going to figure out way to get their messages across. Dog whistles, statements that are communicated only on specific frequencies, are a core communication strategy in response to moderation. People are very creative when it comes to constructing their whistles. They’ll replace letters with numbers or refer to nicknames and stories. They’ll find a way. Hatred finds a way.
There are huge opportunities in moderation to detect and delete incrementally higher pitches of dog whistles. Could one force, or manage, a subset of frequencies into a pitch that only one person can hear?
Collective experiences that don’t suck
Facebook and Twitter enable the user to filter what they see by filtering the network they follow. They relied on the network to scale.
These are collective experiences that scale very well; all moderated by the choice to follow or unfollow.
The individual has the ability to moderate the experience they have, to effectively bubble out the people that degrade your experience to the point of abandonment.
Reddit, and it’s ancestor, Digg, really don’t have such filtering mechanisms. A subreddit regresses as its audience grows. And good subreddits grow to the point that they eat themselves.
The successor to Reddit, whatever it may be, will offer better experiences to more people, at scale. They’ll manage regression either by a networking methodology or discovery of a next generation recsys. They’ll manage states. And, there will be no illusion that the platform is any sort of a democracy. It’s very likely that people who do not share the same values that you do will find a pit somewhere to commiserate and be monetized.
This is a sustainable pathway to scale that privileges the individual’s experience with a digital product over some vague notion that a digital platform is some kind of nation-state.