Reddit CEO Says Front Page Is Due for an Overhaul, Possibly Doing Away With Default Subreddits

Too many opinions 'crammed into a small room'

Reddit's CEO says opening up more content options to new users could dial back vitriol on the site.

While Reddit may be "the front page of the Internet," CEO Steve Huffman says it's a front page that could use some retooling.

Huffman today posted a look back at the site's evolution in 2015, when it implemented a much-debated content policy to help increase civility and also exiled some of the more vile subreddits to be accessible only to those who actively sought them out.

(There was also, of course, the whole dramatic mess of popular employee Victoria Taylor's ouster and the subsequent resignation of CEO Ellen Pao, but Huffman decided to focus largely on what's been accomplished since his return to Reddit, which he co-founded.)

Looking ahead this year, Huffman seems more focused on technical upgrades than policies. Despite the site's massive popularity (to the tune of about 8 billion pageviews a month), Reddit has lagged in optimizing for mobile.

"Reddit has a long history, and it's important to focus on the future to ensure we live up to our potential," he wrote in today's post. "Whether you access it from your desktop, a mobile browser or a native app, we will work to make the Reddit product more engaging. Mobile in particular continues to be a priority for us. Our new Android app is going into beta today, and our new iOS app should follow it out soon."

Perhaps his most interesting comment, though, came as a response to a user who asked whether Reddit was considering changing its selection of default subreddits—essentially the content subscriptions each new user is given on Day 1. You can always unsubscribe or add subreddits, but the default subreddits play a large role in defining the content that goes viral on Reddit.

Huffman expressed frustration with the entire concept of subreddits, which are updated sporadically to add growing communities or drop those that have grown uninteresting and overly pedantic.

"Yes," he told the user. "We've got our sights on the front page algorithm in general. It can be vastly improved. I'm not a fan of defaults. It puts too much of a burden on us to be tastemakers and makes it difficult for great new communities to break through."

One might guess (as several users did after seeing his comment) that Reddit will move toward an increasingly popular digital model of asking new users what kind of content they're interested in, then helping them find subreddits that reflect those interests.

Huffman believes that much of the divisiveness plaguing Reddit is due to the fact that default subreddits force a very large number of people, with a very wide range of beliefs, into a relatively compact conversational space.

"As I mentioned elsewhere," he told a commenter who asked whether Reddit had become too bitter and divided, "improving the front page algorithm and addressing the default situation will go a long way. We're seeing the effects of a bunch of people who have wildly differing viewpoints crammed into a small room."

Huffman also showed that, despite his high-profile and high-stakes task of growing Reddit, he doesn't take his job so seriously that he can't have a bit of fun. 

Asked by one user if Reddit might start selling user content for publication elsewhere, Huffman responded that the only related project he could think of was an AMA (Ask Me Anything) compilation whose proceeds were going to charity. Then he noted that Reddit likely won't pursue this as a core profit model.

"If you think our best revenue idea is making a book, I'm a little insulted," Huffman said. "I mean, I know we have a lot to improve on, but we'd at least sell your personal data to advertisers before getting into publishing for profit."

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