Thursday 27 July 2023

Enshittification of Reddit round 3: the place

We know from insiders and outsiders that Reddit management has always been a mess. But it's not necessary that every single move they make is stupid.

r/place is definitely a great idea on their perspective. Not well executed but also not bad, even pretty good in fact considering their standard in the beginning of the blackout. 

Reddit has been quite successful with their April fools. Some of the better recent ones are the button (2015), the imposter (2020), the second (2021 which I found it interesting mathematically), and of course the place (2017, 2022).

Both April fools r/place were a successful snapshot of various community hanging around Reddit. The 2022 one were welcomed and even more successful with the extended canvas got properly filled with daily active user pushed to the peak. Some may say this is such a successful event and as internet trend changes so fast these days it makes sense to make that an annual event right?

I think u/spez thought so, at least after all the attempts he tried to fought against those uncooperative mods. 

r/place was relaunched a few days ago without any warning with the tagline "right place, wrong time". Nice slogan, but people won't forget what was taken away by Spez. Many protest words were put on the canvas in multiple languages, and the most impressive one is probably the guillotine on reddit head marked spez, on a fitting French flag. This is just part of the story, though.

I lost interest after day 1, but a few conclusions hold throughout in my opinion. Let us go through one by one.

1) Dropping activity

The management may have wanted to take this as an advertisement on how attractive Reddit has been that within a single call everyone would be back. Sorry that didn't happen.

In the 2022 event, 160 millions pixels were placed in 3.5 days, but looking at the official count this year  numbers aren't even close, and this is before taking bots into account.

There is now a site that tracks Reddit activity including new post and comment counts, subs status and so on(which I forgot the website). Number wise the post and comment count remained largely unchanged since the blackout, but the owner of the site also warned that such statistics is deceptive as most posts and comments are in fact, meaningless trash in funky awkward subs. Services monitoring network flow shows that Reddit's receiving less attention since the blackout, and the ad-spaces are now filled with Reddit's own promotion. But we will never know these numbers accurately, and Reddit will always neglect such claims.

And now r/place has put things under sunlight, and it becomes the latest stone cold proof that this site is in fact not in a proper state.

2) Dwindling communities

Together with the dropping pixel count (and probably true participating user count) is the dropping of smaller communities. After the blackouts many subs were forced to reopen/unprivate/un-nsfw and so on. Some ended up archived, some had their mods replaced with the sub losing steam, some decided to let weeds grow on the sub, and some decided to move the whole community away (to lemmy or discord).

This is clearly seen on the earlier days of r/place 2023 when the number of participating niche communities is low. It only improved in later days with bigger canvas, where large communities locked their piece of land and started to help smaller communities as well as opening colour block for others to use.

Looking at Reddark, almost 2000 out of ~9000 subs are still private, and some are still John Oliver'd. If you were an investor of the Reddit IPO would you be convinced about Reddit's latest attempt of redemption?

3) Flags

National flags are always a big part of the canvas in 2017 and 2022, but this time it's even more obvious. It's not surprising that Germany, the US and France are top 3 on the global leader board considering how fast Germany and France are taking over new territories (insert WWII memes here). Turkey took fourth place, but they only managed to make a single proper flag (or a few) perhaps because a moon and a star are damn hard to draw. Canada, placed tenth, will absolutely agree(but credits to them coz they made a proper flag at the end). 

Why did flags flourish even more this time? A clear reason is that with less communities around, national identity does the best to bind users together.

4) Large ambitious communities are prepared

Together with nationalists are members of a few large non-reddit based communities (i.e. with a theme of an external entity which is well run so that the fondness is not affected by the blackout), they are prepared to make the best out of r/place whenever it's coming. 2023 July is an unexpected time, but they easily powered up the machine and dominated the canvas.

Germany has a discord server coordinating over 40k users, France are more or less similar. Osu! and Touhou fans are...simply everywhere like Finland snipers. The latter even collaborated to make a bad apple animation over the course. To accomplish that undisrupted requires tremendous effort and manpower needless to say.

But something is quite worrying about that if r/place are to be held again anytime in the future. If these communities decides to play in their own terms, are there any survival space for the rest?

When people realized team effort is overwhelming over a game they eventually team up to optimize to the point where individual effort are insignificant and the game is not fun anymore. It happens over and over again not only in r/place -- it's also in gacha games where you see those Chinese "workshops" dominates the game is simply depressing but this is a topic for another 10000 words of discussion (in fact my novel is a partial dedication to this phenomenon).

Oh and as usual there are communities unrelated to reddit trying to leave their mark on the canvas as well. Some random twitch streamers, I reckon.

5) Bots

While large communities are mostly actual active users (claimed to be, although some participants are there using bots too), bot activity is a big part of the game. The most obvious one is the 1337 building right next to Osu! which arrogantly occupied the space, "issuing warning" to anyone who wanted to fight back and highly synchronized and coordinated to the point that is impossible to be human controlled.

Reddit admin claimed that they wanted to fight bots but they refused to take action "because it's hard to distinguish between bots and highly coordinated humans". What?

Yeah you can say that they have accounts created way back in 2017 and 2022. You can say that they can farm pointless posts, comments and Karmas as well. But What about accounts created just these days then? Can you add restriction based on actual activity because not every bot account do the karma farming? Can you restrict API access like you did to the third party apps? Captcha before pixels?Bots can always squeeze through the leaks but the more obstacles you set the less effective they would be.

But Reddit did none of that and let bots do whatever they wanted to. All of that going to the fake number of traffic that would look good for their IPO. But again, such number is pure garbage if you know what's behind.

Reddit admin isn't completely wrong though. Bots are increasingly human-like behaviorally on the Internet. Captcha challenges isn't a challenge for them anymore (instead the system catches bot on other background information). The imposter event further confirms the evolution of bots. Many are in fact quite pessimistic on whether Internet would be a useful place in the future when you are not even interacting with humans. I definitely don't want to see measures like Google's plan to DRM our browsers though.

6) Censorship

Interestingly I thought this is somewhat expected even in 2017 and 2022 but did not become an issue. A probable reason is that more communities means that the canvas is more fragmented, leaving smaller room for that. To be honest finding inappropriate drawings is pretty normal for Reddit as a whole. 

I am fine taking NSFW as a no on this event considering r/place to be a place for all. Although that does not explain some of the most controversial censoring like Ronaldo's piss and Spez's guillotine. The way they censored those problematic figures are also partly why it looked bad when you have a blob of random pixels with no username suddenly splashed on the target.

If you need to censor things please do it in a more low-key way next time, but if there is a next time and of course the best is to let the communities to sort it out...


Reddit is not dead, yet. 

There are still a number of active users and communities around. The end product still shows a wide variety of cultures on it. It surely will be an important snapshot to look at when we wonder what the Internet looked like back in 2023.

But that does not change the fact that Reddit is going down the hill one step at a time, behind all those shiny (not really...just merely satisfactory?) fake numbers. Everything going just as the enshittification cycle and we will know the fate of Reddit in coming years.

Also, a big f to spez :).

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