A Look at NH's Web Weavers
Each hour spent online offers a fresh assortment of wisdom, whimsy and wonder to our twitching typing fingers. Ever wonder who’s deciding what rises to the top of the info heap? The answer may be closer than you think.
Author Rebecca Lavoie
Photo by John Hession
Let’s just get this out of the way. My name is Rebecca Lavoie, and I’m addicted to reddit.
You may have heard of reddit (the lowercase “r” is part of their minimal aesthetic), but if you’re like most of the people in my life, you either don’t know much about it or have been confounded by the site if you’ve ever tried to check it out.
So first, a quick explainer.
Reddit is a social media/news site on which users can post content ranging from questions and opinions to links to articles, photos, videos, music or just about anything else of interest.
Unlike Facebook or Twitter, reddit is an open network, meaning you don’t have to friend or follow individual “redditors” to see their content or for them to see yours. Instead, reddit is an unflinching democracy. Users are mostly anonymous, and can “upvote” or “downvote” any piece of content or comment posted on the site. The most frequently upvoted content floats toward the top of the page, while content that’s ignored or downvoted isn’t likely to be seen.
But reddit isn’t just one website. It’s actually made up of thousands of individual “subreddits,” each for a specific topic or geographical region. These “subs,” as they’re called, have the naming convention (hang on, it looks technical, but really is simple). The formula is /r/subredditname, so the sub for video games would be called /r/videogames, and the sub for backyard chickens would be /r/backyardchickens. This is also the formula of the subreddit’s web address, as in reddit.com/r/backyardchickens.
The same convention works for places, like /r/newhampshire, and /r/brooklyn. Like an endless array of branches on the world’s biggest tree, subreddits range from the mainstream, like /r/news and /r/music and /r/newyorkcity, to the super-niche, like /r/autodetailing and /r/bulldogs.
If you visit reddit’s homepage, you’ll see an aggregated list of the hottest content from a default set of popular subreddits, including /r/technology, /r/worldnews, and the internet’s best repository for adorable pet pictures, /r/aww.
When you register as a user, you can subscribe to the subreddits that match your own interests, which means every user sees a different custom homepage at reddit.com. And when your posts or comments get upvoted, your account gets points, called karma, the reddit equivalent of eBay’s feedback system.
Oh, and one final thing about reddit … it’s ugly.
Unlike Facebook, where designers are driven by a near-maniacal pursuit of the ideal user interface, reddit doesn’t seem to care about how it looks or feels. The site better resembles the AOL chat boards of the 1990s than the slick newsfeeds of digital natives, which is likely why so many people have told me that they just ”don’t get” its appeal.
But the upside to understanding reddit is huge, transformative, even.
This very moment on reddit, you’ll find videos, articles and memes that will be viral a few minutes, hours or days from now. You can also connect with experts in nearly any field or topic, or connect directly with someone who’s already solved a problem you’ve spent months trying to crack.
Reddit is an unabashed vortex of content and ideas, and sometimes, as with everything on the web, it’s downright sordid. But reddit is also pretty much everything you could ever want online, and for addicts like me, the only website you might ever need.
If you don’t believe me, believe the slogan: “reddit: The front page of the Internet.”
Max Broderick is a 25-year-old New Hampshire native living in Manchester, a bio-medical scientist working in quality control for Anheuser-Busch. He’s an admitted fellow reddit addict, with the vanity license plate to prove it: “-REDDIT.”
“Reddit has been a good influence on me,” Max says, “It’s a great time-killer, but unlike other sites, I don’t feel like I’m wasting time when I’m using it.”
Max tells me two stories he says prove his theory that reddit is not only the smartest, but also the most human social media site. On /r/soccer, a sub with more than 200,000 subscribers from around the world, he once connected in a comment thread with a user whose interest in soccer seemed to mirror his own. It turned out that user lived just a few doors down from Max’s parents’ house, and after meeting in person, they’ve remained friends for years.
When Max got his first apartment and decided to pick up drumming again, he consulted /r/drumming to find out if anyone knew of a drum set he could buy that wouldn’t disturb his neighbors. He quickly found a thread that pointed him to the best — and quietest — electronic drum kit he could afford.
“What I like about reddit is that people who agree and who are expert in their advice get upvoted, so you end up getting a sort of collectively chosen, almost perfect point of view,” he says. “The people who are better informed, and even more moral, they tend to float to the top of every conversation. This might sound weird, but following their advice kind of molds who you are.”
I’d love to say there’s no “typical” redditor, but even users who don’t fit the mold would probably agree Max represents the majority: young, tech-savvy and male.
Part of that is likely tied to the sensibility of reddit’s young, tech-savvy, male cofounders and to its bulletin board format, reminiscent of popular websites for programmers and video gamers, which are largely dominated by male users.
Reddit also has a collective consciousness that’s stamped with many hallmarks of geek culture. Ask a random sample of redditors just a few questions and you’ll probably find they have these things in common: a love of science and science fiction of the Star Trek variety, a fascination with technology, a rejection of arbitrary authority and a sense of humor that overshoots rote sarcasm and goes straight to the macabre.
Devout redditors also care deeply about the integrity of their online community, which has led to the sometimes-strict, always-diverse and ever-evolving set of user guidelines known as “reddiquette.”
The Granite State of reddiquette
“The Internet is a big part of my life. I’m pretty deep into it.”
Joshua Cyr is a freelance software consultant and owner of Alpha Loft, a co-working community in downtown Portsmouth. Joshua is the moderator of /r/PortsmouthNH, a subreddit for the region that has distinguished itself from the larger, often-pricklier /r/newhampshire.
As a moderator, Joshua is responsible for keeping an eye on his sub for spam content and abusive users, and for being a sort of passive reddiquette sheriff.
“It’s easy to want to downvote something you don’t agree with,” he says, “but my feeling is that if someone is posting something, whether it’s a piece of news or just their opinion, it has value to the community even if I don’t agree with it.”
“Downvoting should be for bad behavior,” Joshua says. “Upvoting should be for good or original content. That’s how you get a healthy ecosystem.”
There’s quite a bit of debate over whether /r/newhampshire, the state’s primary subreddit with more than 4,000 users, is healthy or not.
On its face, /r/newhampshire seems to reflect the conversation you’d imagine tech-savvy 20- and 30-somethings having at bars and cafés around the state. There are plenty of threads about where to find the best hiking trails or places to have breakfast, the high cost of housing, links to local news and speculation about when and whether 5 Guys or Trader Joe’s are opening new locations in Concord.
The sub also has a cheeky sense of humor built into its voting system; rather than the standard arrows, users click on a picture of New Hampshire to vote something up and a picture of Massachusetts to vote it down.
But there’s also a hint of bitter cultural fracture in /r/newhampshire, which is the primary reason the Granite State redditors I spoke with say they don’t spend as much time in the sub as they’d like. I got a hearty taste of it when I recently posted this question: “I’m writing an article about New Hampshire’s reddit culture for NH Magazine. What should it include?”
The response was swift, and at first, merciless.
(Related link to my question and the thread that followed: http://www.reddit.com/r/newhampshire/comments/226mav/im_writing_an_article_about_new_hampshires_reddit/ )
“90 percent of the subreddit gets taken up by FSP (Free State Project) nonsense, and it seems to represent maybe 20-30 people out of a million.”
A user named ‘yarsure’ referenced the sub’s most-contentious issue in the very first response I received.
“If there was a place that less represented the sort of people that will make the state a healthy place again, I’d be hard-pressed to find it.”
A slew of anti-Free State posts followed yarsure’s, most complaining that the Libertarian group unfairly dominates the sub. At the same time, my question was viciously downvoted before eventually being upvoted by those with more optimistic views of the sub’s potential, like user Snap_Chicken: “I am a NH native. I love my state. I love seeing pictures from people hiking around the state and submit my own from time to time.”
Chris Saunders, a 29-year-old photographer from Contoocook, is among the redditors who wish /r/newhampshire could fully embrace a more user-friendly tone. He says that when it strikes the right note, the sub does a great job as both a community forum and a marketing tool for the state.
“What I’ve noticed is that the number of people who’ve subscribed has grown, but more and more, there are questions from people out of state and looking to move here.”
He’s right. As of this writing, the top post on /r/newhampshire is by someone moving to Nashua looking for leads on an apartment. And because /r/newhampshire is for the most part a friendly place, there are already a number of helpful responses.
In fact, the rest of /r/newhampshire’s top posts are, at least for today, the kind of content that defines healthy regional subs. There’s a post about the Fisher Cats, a vote on where /r/newhampshire users should meet up and a parent asking for recommendations on the best things to do in New Hampshire with a family. There are also four posts about local breweries and beer, an inquiry about where to find the best tattoo artist and even a fairly civil debate over a controversial statement made by a state lawmaker.
“If /r/newhampshire continues to be about what’s great about the state, it could really grow organically over time,” says Portsmouth’s Joshua Cyr. “It can’t be a bad thing that so many people who post are looking for advice about jobs, housing and where to go this weekend.”
So, is the Free State Project’s presence in /r/newhampshire prohibiting its health? That remains to be seen.
What might be a better question is whether the Free State Project is somehow prohibiting the health of young, tech-savvy New Hampshire. The redditors I spoke with were all confident that is not the case.
Ready to reddit
You don’t have to be a Free Stater, tech-savvy or even male to jump into reddit. The site is at its best when the unexpected redditor posts a great piece of content, like the boomer parents who recently posted a photo mocking their son’s Facebook picture, or artist Christine McConnell, who’s risen to reddit celebrity status by posting self-portraits in which she recreates scenes like one from the 1980s film “Weird Science.” (Related links: http://imgur.com/6KgyqLv and http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/1wyaoo/i_recreated_weird_science_d/ )
In fact, reddit doesn’t even require you post anything at all. Many users are simply avid readers, whether they’re browsing news, photos, memes or meant-to-be-read subs like /r/askreddit and /r/science. And because you can create a handle that’s completely anonymous, no one even needs to know you’re lurking.
My name is Rebecca Lavoie, and I’m a reddit addict. And if can happen to a 40-year-old woman like me, it can happen to you, too, I promise. Just don’t wait too long to give reddit a try because it’s only a matter of time before the coolest place on the Internet becomes yesterday’s news.
The reddit newbie’s glossary
Reddit has many abbreviations and expressions that seem like secret code to the new user. Here are just a few of the most commonly used to help you get started on the site:
Karma Rating points earned by users for their upvoted posts and comments
OP Original Poster. Refers to the person who originally posted a comment, photo or link.
AMA Ask me anything. A thread created by an OP opening themselves up to questions of any kind. People with interesting professions, celebrities and even President Obama have held reddit AMAs.
Tl;dr Too long; didn’t read. An abbreviation commonly used at the end of an overly long post before a quick summary of said post.
X-post A cross post of content between more than one subreddit. Reddiquette dictates you are upfront with an x-post in your post’s headline.
Throwaway Unlike other social media sites, reddit doesn’t care how many accounts you create or why. Throwaways are accounts created to respond to specific posts, novelty accounts created for humorous reasons and accounts created so users can respond or post anonymously.
Repost It’s a bad idea to repost content on reddit you’ve already posted or to repost an OP’s content. Just trust me on this.
MRW “My reaction when …” An abbreviation starting the headline on a GIF or meme created to illustrate how OP reacted to an event in his or her life
TIL Today I learned. A popular subreddit and abbreviation for interesting facts, bits of history and statistics.
ELI5 Explain like I’m 5. A popular subreddit and expression redditors use to get simple explanations for all kinds of questions. Example: ELI5 What is String Theory?