Reddit braces for life after API changes

Reddit has had a tumultuous month after announcing changes to its data API. In the last month, Reddit’s CEO gave interviews defending the company’s decision, the social network had fights with developers and moderators, and the platform saw a large number of subreddits going dark and later protesting in different ways.

Given that the API changes and rate limits went into effect on July 1, Reddit is preparing for a new chapter with fewer third-party apps, more focus on its own apps, and an unhappy community. In this story, we will take a look at what has happened in the last month and what the future looks like.

Reddit’s controversial June month

Early in June, Christian Selig, the developer of a popular Reddit client called Apollo, said that he had a call with Reddit management. The API pricing would cost him nearly $20 million per month to run his app. This post and the company’s changes were followed by many third-party Reddit app developers sharing similar concerns about their future.

As a reaction, many subreddits decided to go dark on June 12-14 to protest these changes. Meanwhile, Selig said that he would be shutting down Apollo by the end of the month. Other apps like Reddit is Fun and Sync for Reddit also announced closures. The company’s CEO Steve Huffman held a dramatic AMA on the site and defended his decision saying that Reddit would “continue to be profit-driven until profits arrive” while attacking Selig.

Huffman gave a series of interviews as thousands of subreddits went dark. He called protesting moderators the “landed gentry” and talked about redefining moderator rules so the community can vote them out if needed. Huffman also complained that while third-party developers made money, Reddit had to bear an infrastructure cost of $10 million per year.

Later, Selig and other developers hit back to debunk Reddit’s claim about trying to work with developers. Selig said in his post that in one of the calls with the company earlier this year, he asked about plans for changes in APIs, and the company said there won’t be any.

While the June 12-14 protest had an effect on the site’s traffic and even Google search, the company maintained the stance that there was no effect on the revenue. As a result, some subreddits extended the blackout — some even asked their community members to decide the future course of their community. As Reddit admins threatened the moderators to reopen subreddits, these communities adapted alternative forms of protests like posting pictures of John Oliver, deciding on blackout days, and changing the focus of the community.

The company also pushed back on subreddits that started marking themselves as NSFW. They removed moderators for communities like r/interstingasfuck, r/midlyinteresting, and r/TIHI (Thanks I hate it). Notably, the company doesn’t allow ads on NSFW subs, and a large number of communities changing their status could affect advertising revenue.

As The Verge reported last month, r/TranscribersOfReddit, a volunteer subreddit that provided transcription for media, decided to shut down. Additionally, the report noted that moderators relied on third-party apps for accessibility tools, which are not available in Reddit’s app.

The company did allow apps like RedReader, Dystopia, and Luna to be exempt from API changes because of accessibility features. However, moderators have pointed out that these apps might not have adequate moderator tools.

What’s happening now

When some communities decided to stay private, Reddit admins sent messages to moderators asking them to open up within 48 hours. As a result, communities like r/Photography and r/homeimprovement have opened up, but with either relaxed rules or in restricted mode. r/pics is now NSFW despite the company saying wrongly marking a community with that label is against the platform’s rules. r/videos is posting text descriptions of videos. So the protest is still going on in some way.

Apps like Apollo, Sync for Reddit, BaconReader, and Boost for Reddit have shut down. Meanwhile, some developers for apps like Relay, Now for Reddit, and Narwhal are making their apps free to use while exploring a subscription model.

Moderators are still finding ways to protest the changes. r/IAMA moderators said they will no longer coordinate celebrity interviews, as reported by The Verge.

Over the weekend, Reddit announced that it is bringing accessibility improvements to features like moderation tools. However, r/Blind moderators posted over the weekend that there are bugs in the official Reddit app that have made it impossible to steer the community. The subreddit also demanded that the social network should appoint a “Chief Accessibility Officer” to make the platform more inclusive and easier to use.

In its blog post titled “Key Facts to Understanding Reddit’s Recent API Updates,” the company said that it has conducted an external audit on accessibility, but didn’t share more details on it. The social media platform said that it has exempted apps like RedReader, Luna, and Dystopia from API charges. This way, accessibility-focused apps will remain free. But the company didn’t share the criteria for an app to qualify for the exemption.

As for the company, it is now focused on achieving profitability as rumors of an IPO are intensifying. In an interview with The Verge, Huffman said that an IPO is “something we’d like to do someday” but there were “a few things I’d like to do with Reddit before we get there.”

Some communities have started to move to new places like Kbin and Lemmy. However, the communities on those platforms are still small compared to subreddits with thousands or even millions of users.

Reddit’s recent set of actions have not wiped out the third-party ecosystem entirely, but the company has made it hard for developers to create a sustainable model without incurring significant costs. These changes have also created unpleasant experiences for communities and pushed them to use tools that they might not have wanted to.

The company seems to be adamant about its decisions, and new changes to the API pricing structure seem unlikely.

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