Forums used to rule the internet in the early days of the web. Anonymous message boards set up around specific interests or topics allowed users to find content they cared about and others who felt the same. As the internet began to support more varied media types – as well as a larger corporate presence – and generally steer towards more open-ended social sites, interest in forums began to dissipate and these sites began to fall off.

However, one such website has stood the test of time and is keeping forums firmly in the mainstream. 

According to statistics as of June 2021, Reddit is ranked as the ninth most popular website in the United States and the 19th most popular website in the world. Users can share and view images, videos, written posts or external links across an endless variety of categorized forums called subreddits. The posts are user-moderated, but its focus on community opinion ensures only the best content rises to the top of the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet”.

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What kind of user does Reddit attract?

Though there is a very specific type of user most associated with Reddit, the ability to develop tight-knit communities around even the most niche of topics means the site attracts users of all kinds. As of 2019, Reddit has 430,000,000 active monthly users and 52,000,000 active daily users. As a whole, the userbase skews male, with almost 40% of users falling between the ages of 18 and 29. The vast majority of users are from the United States, where 25% of adults use the site, but it has also found a foothold in Australia, India, and the Philippines, among others. 

Rather than relying fully on a computer-driven algorithm to determine what content is shown most prominently, Reddit puts the power in the hands of its users. Every post made has two options next to it, prompting users to make a choice: upvote or downvote. The options are exactly what they sound like, opinions of whether the post was good or bad, and the net score shows how popular each post is. This ranking system is then used to show more popular posts to more people and to keep the more unpopular posts hidden away. This improves the overall experience of the site, as spam, trolls, and other unsavory content get weeded out and pushed to the bottom.

Popularity isn’t the only metric

That said, users don’t have to completely count on the opinion of others for what content they can access. Though this popularity ranking system is the default view within each subreddit, there are options to sort by recency, relevancy and even most controversial. Short of posts that violate the site or subreddit guidelines, anything that gets uploaded will not be removed, so people who disagree with an opinion can’t get rid of it outright. 

The subreddit feature is what sets the site apart from most other social media platforms. Rather than curating your feed by following specific users and seeing what they share, users join the communities that match what they want to see. Subreddit topics can be immensely broad or incredibly niche. Users can find communities based around anything from whole mediums of entertainment to a specific single book, posts that elicit a certain mood to advice on fixing the exact make and model of a car, pictures of cool tattoos to an up-and-coming YouTuber with only a few thousand views. 

These communities are managed by moderators who created, or were selected by those who created, the subreddit. They oversee the content that users submit and have the power to approve, remove, or add specific tags to posts. The guidelines of what can be posted and what behavior is accepted in the Subreddit are also set by moderators, though these decisions are often made by taking the opinion of the community as a whole into account. Though moderators have the ability to shape the Subreddit, it’s still ultimately up to the general users to determine just what the community will be.

What is Reddit karma?

Reddit features a ranking system called karma that acts more or less like a gold star sticker: it’s desperately sought after and almost completely meaningless. Karma is generated by positive engagements and is separated into two categories: post karma and comment karma. Each type of karma is earned by receiving upvotes on corresponding content.

The uses for karma are very limited. Beyond meeting the site’s requirements to start a subreddit or specific subreddits’ self-appointed requirements for arbitrary internal tiers, the point system is almost solely about reputation. Higher karma scores can signal that a user is unlikely to troll or post spam and may be a reliable member of the community, while lower karma scores can point towards users that either are not particularly active or are not real users at all. 

However, the karma system isn’t an infallible system to rank users based on their worth and contribution to the platform and it should be taken with a grain of salt. There are numerous subreddits dedicated to artificially raising karma by way of mutual agreements to upvote anything posted to them, and users who disagree with someone, even if the person has done nothing wrong, can pile on and bombard them with unwarranted downvotes. 

Not as daunting as it seems

Between the stigma earned by its seedier sides, the stereotypes associated with its userbase and how foreign it can seem to those only used to the other mainstream social media platforms, Reddit can seem like an intimidating site to get into. Once users get past these roadblocks, though, they will find content, resources and communities tailored to almost anything they could think to look for.