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Business - Written by on Thursday, July 10, 2008 21:01 - 3 Comments

Jeff DeChambeau
Wild speculation: reddit is run by some very smart people

A few weeks ago, the popular news aggregator site Reddit went open source. This struck me as pretty surprising, as I know that reddit is competiting with Digg, and I was under the impression that both had algorithms to determine which stories were deemed most popular that were kept secret and well guarded. Opening the source of reddit for all to see would allow anyone to instantly copy the site. Given that the site is coded in and run on languages and software that are themselves open, giving the entire world their proprietary code seems like an easy way to add competitors to the market.

The guys at reddit gave three reasons for why they’ve opened their source:

  1. Even faster development.
  2. Total transparency.
  3. They <3 open source.

All three of these are great reasons, but the fact remains that they’ve effectively handed all of their would-be competitors everything that they need to very quickly launch knock-off or competitive sites. Or maybe they haven’t. As I see it, reddit has two things going in its favour. First, the loyalty of it’s users (something solidified even further by a move like going open source). There’s no reason for any of these users to splinter off to their own reddit-clone sites, after all, they’re part of an open and transparent community.

The second thing strikes me as much more interesting. Earlier today, Alan and I were discussing how important the algorithms of these pop-news sites are when it struck us that the algorithm is only half of the puzzle. These social news sites improve over time not because their algorithms change drastically, but because the weighting of the variables in the algorithms has a chance to be refined over many years.

My hypothesis is that the reddit team doesn’t have to worry about knockoffs stealing their lunch because it would take a few years and many, many users for the weighting variables in the clone sites to become anywhere near as refined and useful as in the original. Giving away their source code is really giving away very little. In exchange, they get all of the accolades of openness that come with bearing all to the world, and legions of users who then want to engage in making the site even better — for free of course!

Very, very smart. Unless I’ve completely missed the mark and don’t understand how the site works. Have I?


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Kyle Mathews
Jul 13, 2008 1:59

Actually social media algorithms are very basic. This site lists the algorithms for four of the top social aggregator sites: Hacker News, Reddit, Stumble Upon, and Digg. http://www.seomoz.org/blog/reddit-stumbleupon-delicious-and-hacker-news-algorithms-exposed

I’m building an open source Memetracker for Drupal and I’m using a slightly modified version of the Hacker News algorithm as a start and the results are pretty good. You can check out my LiveTest site at http://memes.educon20.org

Wikinomics » Blog Archive » The Wikinomics Roundup: Week in Review
Jul 14, 2008 0:50

[...] and widgets. On July 10, 2008… Jeff DeChambeau shared some interesting Web 2.0 tactics: Wild speculation: reddit is run by some very smart people A few weeks ago, the popular news aggregator site Reddit went open source. This struck me as pretty [...]

Jul 16, 2008 19:45

Yep, the algorithms get smarter and more valuable as they interact with the users. The cloud platform relies on the eyes.

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