Gaslighting Your Users for Fun and Profit

Ohhhh Reddit. Reddit, Reddit, Reddit. My brother in Christ, what are you doing? In its infinite pre-IPO wisdom, Reddit has decided to transition from free API usage for 3rd party apps to charging $12,000 USD per 50 million API requests with only 30 days notice to developers.

Unsurprisingly, this has angered just about everyone who relies on 3rd party apps and moderation tools for their normal use of the site. Representatives of Reddit swear up and down that killing 3rd party apps isn't the goal with their new monetization of the API, but the only comparable peer API price of this magnitude is the widely ridiculed Twitter API terms that the Musk-era site put in place a few scant months ago.

Now on simply the idea of paid API access for third party applications, I'm completely on board. It's not unreasonable for an application to need to cover the costs incurred by the resources it consumes. But the price point Reddit has decided upon can only be described as extortion.

Instead of being honest and handing down a rule that disallows 3rd party applications, Reddit has chosen to pretend that the price they are asking is reasonable and shift the blame of the resulting astronomical costs on to the application developers despite every major application restraining themselves to barely 0.4% of the 86,400 average per day limit previously published in the API usage guidelines. To compare this another way, one single user that generates exactly the currently acceptable 86,400 API calls per day will incur a cost of $7,568.64 USD for the year under the new rate. That is one person. Does a $622.08 monthly app subscription sound appealing to offset the developer's API costs for letting you use their app? Except it would have to be higher to also cover the cut that Apple or Google will take, and we haven't even talked about the developer's personal cut yet for their trouble of developing and supporting the service in the first place.

I can tell you Reddit sure as hell doesn't make that much from advertisers on a per-user basis.

The price alone may be sufficient evidence to gauge Reddit's true motivation in this change, but I believe the most damning aspect is actually the 30-day window between informing developers of the price and when they will begin incurring charges under the new terms of the API. In the enterprise space, major changes to APIs tend to start in the ballpark of six to twelve months notice and may even run longer as the deadline approaches to make sure that all consumers of that API are able to implement any new requirements and decommission work flows that will no longer be available. Even in situations where an API or product is shutting down entirely, it's not uncommon for this shutdown grace period to run for years to ensure that both the API providers and consumers are able to fulfill any contractual obligations surrounding that API.

Springing news to developers of how they are suddenly going to be incurring astronomical costs within thirty days gives them no time at all to adjust their own business planning around covering the new costs, and it can't be anything other than intentional. Particularly when Reddit is on record as late as January of this year claiming that no major changes were planned for the Reddit 3rd party API for 2023 at all.

It's for this reason that I believe that the upcoming blackout of numerous subreddits in protest over the situation will ultimately have no impact on the outcome. Reddit set their course of action in full knowledge of the outrage it would generate, and are betting that any exodus of users away from the site won't be enough to sink it.

Their tactics in gaslighting their own user base tells me that they aren't acting in good faith, and any concessions they might happen to give to placate users will be short-lived at best. And I want to emphasize how much I hate this reality, because over the last decade Reddit has become an invaluable repository for specialty knowledge and discussion. Even with all of the bots, and astroturfing, and low quality spam... there has always been insightful, thought-provoking content to peruse and more of it gets generated every day. There's something enchanting about listening to people really dive in to discussing topics they're passionate about, even when it's a topic you might not have much (or any) knowledge in.

However I think there's a critical error in how Reddit has gauged the cost of going down this road, and it's the simple fact that Reddit differs from every other social media site when it comes to content moderation. Reddit relies on volunteers to step up in every single subreddit community that gets created to ensure that the content of that community stays at a standard they can all enjoy. The only moderation that Reddit engages in is a more indirect style of meta-moderation; they will step in to resolve situations with a community's moderation team if one can be proven, and they will take action on situations that they are legally obligated to respond to.

But what this means is that the quality, and therefor value, of Reddit as a platform is reliant entirely on power users who provide and discuss the content of the website and the volunteer moderators who ensure that power users remain comfortable enough to keep engaging in their community. The average casual Reddit user has no idea this situation is happening, and likely won't even care if someone tells them about it. But these casual users aren't the ones who make Reddit valuable as a web resource, they are the eyeballs that Reddit wants to advertise to and monetize. Instead, the group of people that Reddit pissed off is the power users and moderators – the very group that provides all of the content that the casual users consume.

Will there be a mass exodus? People are certainly quick to compare this to the old Digg 4.0 situation where that site shot itself in the foot so bad that nearly everyone migrated to Reddit to escape it. My own Reddit account actually originated from this migration. So if those aforementioned power users and moderators leave, you can count on the general Reddit experience to degrade sharply. Logically, it would follow that if the general experience keeps degrading, it will surely have a ripple effect on casual users who no longer find the content they are looking for. But as fun as it would be to see the Digg situation play out again, I'm not convinced there's another platform that can yet provide what Reddit does.

Reddit is fundamentally different from every other social media site in my eyes. On Reddit you don't follow people. You follow communities. It almost doesn't even matter what the username is on the comments you're reading until you're personally invested in that community. They could all be labeled “anonymous” and the only thing that would change is the site would feel more like the 4chan of old. As hard as Reddit tried to bring in user-to-user personal connection the same way you might find on a more traditional social media site it never really gained traction, at least as far as I'm aware.

New communities are sprouting up on a federated Reddit alternative called Lemmy but after watching the struggles of Mastodon adoption during Musk's evisceration of Twitter, I just don't see widespread adoption of a federated service as being an achievable goal. Mastodon had the advantage of already being at a reasonable maturity and population when the moment came to jump ship and Musk's behavior made it exceptionally difficult to ignore the situation, but the common user is so tech illiterate that they just can't understand the concept of a web service that isn't a monolithic entity on a single domain. Bridging the gap of knowledge was a step too far for a huge amount of people, and they stayed on Twitter even as the experience degraded.

Meanwhile Lemmy doesn't seem to be in the same advantageous position that Mastodon was and is suffering some serious growing pains as the first wave of Reddit refugees start to sign up on existing instances. But maybe growing to Reddit's size overnight isn't what's needed anyways. Before Reddit, small focused communities flourished on the web as the de facto destination for specialty knowledge and discussion. If you know where to look, they still do. And maybe Lemmy or another federated service can step in as a useful tool for these communities to leverage in expanding their reach without being beholden to the whims of a corporate leadership team looking to cash out.

We had some good times, Reddit. It's a shame that, at least for me, I think we're done unless something drastic happens like ousting everyone that pushed this through and changing course to instead put the community first instead of the IPO. I just can't abide this level of contempt that Reddit's leadership apparently harbors for their users.

#reddit #federation #lemmy #twitter #mastodon

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The number of video games is too dang high.
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