How Reddit Started and Grew to 250M Monthly Pageviews Within 5 Years (8 min read)
Reddit – the largest online community and a social news site. Since the beginning, one of its key features was a way for democratically picking the best content.
Today, it boasts over 500 million users per month
Strategy & Tools
Reddit History Timeline
- 2005 - Reddit is launched. The first version didn’t have comments, nor categories. For the first few months, it mostly contains content posted by its founders under fake accounts
- 2006 – subreddits are introduced to the platform. One of the most popular is NSFW which accounted for around 10% of the traffic. Other popular subreddits are programming, science, and then politics
- 2008 – users are allowed to submit their own subreddits. After a period of steady growth, that contributes to an exponential growth of the platform until at least 2012
- Dec 2010 – the number of pageviews reached 250 million
- Feb 2011 – a milestone is reached: 1 billion pageviews per month
Who came up with the idea of Reddit?
Two University of Virginia students, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, came up with the idea of Reddit as a part of their time in Paul Graham's startup incubator, Y Combinator. This is how Reddit started.
Reddit Fake accounts and How Reddit got its first users
Reddit’s founders knew that they are developing a social site and that meant it needed a society around it. With such platforms, a community is one of the reasons you join the platform but in this chicken and egg problem, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian posted links from fake accounts (each of them had 50 separate accounts).
The platform’s functionality was to add a link and text but as admins, they had a third field that created new users. This design wasn’t to spam the platform, rather shows that it’s alive on the first page and set the tone for the content they would like to be posted on the platform.
Users who joined later quickly got this standard and if something was odd, they made it disappear. These fake accounts were gradually phased out as the user base grew.
Reddit – 1 billion page views monthly
In February 2011, Google Analytics showed that Reddit surpassed 1 billion page views. There appeared a third comma in their page views number.
How did Reddit surpass 1 billion? Through design. The design of Reddit’s smaller competition, Digg, was much more complicated, which contributed to its fall. That most probably gave Reddit a solid boost in the number of page views.
Lesson? Be better than your competition!
How did Reddit get popular – guerilla marketing
Guerilla marketing in the early days of a startup or product is not a rare thing. For Reddit, that was faking the traffic, but also buying $500 of stickers and posting them all over Boston, Massachusetts.
Being good at one thing
Founders clearly had visions for numerous features but in the beginning, they focused only on the core feature of posting links.
That was to such an extent, they didn’t even ask users for emails at registration, and it didn’t have any categorization (it did at some point, but investors advised to get rid of that). That had been justified by the two goals of the platform at that time – get as many registered users as possible and get quality content posted frequently. Hiding this functionality behind registration would prevent newcomers from contributing to that goals.
Reddit censorship-free platform / NSFW subreddit
Another tactic used by Huffman was avoiding censorship and doing that only in extreme cases. This created an open, transparent community in which anyone could speak their truths – even those criticizing the platform and its founders.
That created a sense of community and trust which became one of Reddit’s trademarks.
A good word from someone known
Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, mentioned Reddit in one of his essays. This could give reddit another 3,000-4,000 visitors per day in the early days.
Although Reddit didn’t have any sort of comments, it had the system of Kudos which represented how users value certain posts. On top of that, the first fake accounts created fake social proof that the platform is alive and has other users.
Such proofs are valuable to humans in general and convince them to take an action.
People joined other people on Reddit because it seemed like a cool website with an active community. If they had known it’s actually two people posting, that could have gone completely another way.
People prefer brands that seem more human and authentic. Choosing not to moderate the vast majority of comments and posts played on that effect.
As a social network, Reddit gave its users feedback loops – share a link, get a reward of Kudos or learn to try harder next time.
One of the most popular activities on Reddit to this day is… memes. An image is worth a thousand words and is more influential on the human’s brain which is why they get so popular and Reddit rode that as a platform of their origin.
Window of Opportunity
Users are key to platforms with any kind of social interactions–if you have to make them or ask your friends to use it actively – that might work. However, Reddit has been founded over 15 years ago and lots of our online interactions have changed. A lesson that hasn’t aged is in the platform’s design – focus on delivering value, one at a time, and make it as easy for the users to get it as possible. Adding features in the early stages is often just clutter.
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