Reddit has always been a certainty for many of us. Any question you have or discussion you want to have, there is one or more subreddits for it. Personally, the platform has been a source of entertainment, problem-solving, and learning like no other website. This is in great part thanks to the communities powering it. But in the past weeks, something changed. Many of the communities that made it what it is today went private in protest of recent Reddit API changes. But what are these changes exactly?
APIs and cutting costs
The application programming interface (API) serves as the foundation of web development, acting as the link between the data displayed on your screen (technically referred to as the front end). The underlying systems that store and process the data, including databases, servers, business logic, and more (the back-end). Within Reddit, APIs play a crucial role, empowering different functionalities and interactions on the platform.
Developers utilize APIs to access and retrieve information from Reddit’s vast database, encompassing posts, comments, user profiles, and subreddit details. Through APIs, developers can also programmatically perform actions such as posting content, commenting, voting, and managing user accounts. This opens up possibilities for creating third-party applications, bots, data analysis tools, and integrations with other services, all harnessing the capabilities of Reddit’s API ecosystem.
In an official blog post from the Reddit staff, they announced the modifications to the API structure are due to the costs of upkeep. As other companies, such as Twitter, already terminated free access to the APIs, the blog post goes over how they too were primarily driven by the need to address the costs of maintaining and supporting third-party applications that heavily rely on their API.
As the popularity of Reddit has grown, so has the demand for data access, resulting in substantial infrastructure and opportunity costs for the platform. In an attempt to address these challenges, they introduced a new pricing structure for enterprise-level usage while continuing to offer free access to the data API for non-monetized apps and those below the data-usage threshold. Furthermore, free access will still be granted to non-commercial projects, moderation tools, and bots if under a specific usage threshold.
The developer of Apollo, a popular third-party app built on the Reddit API, Christian Selig, revealed that under the modified terms, it would cost him over $20 million per year to sustain Apollo. The modifications of the API don’t seem as fair as the blog post claimed. Many other apps followed Apollo’s example and announced they would need to close doors if these changes took place. This led to many subreddits going dark in protest.
Trust in Reddit’s leadership, particularly CEO Steve Huffman, went even lower. Instead of taking a step back, they stood firm on the decision and took measures against the protesting subreddits, messaging moderators to either reopen them or get removed. In response, some subreddits started alternative protests, such as allowing NSFW content (as Reddit can’t monetize NSFW communities), which only got them removed.
This situation got so out of control that even hackers got involved, demanding the Reddit API changes be reverted. Huffman acknowledged the significance of protests in an interview with The Associated Press, but he expressed skepticism on the effectiveness of the current one. He noted that it would not bring about any changes as their decision was never open to negotiation.
The recent API changes and subsequent protests have shaken the very foundation of Reddit, a platform that has served as a valuable resource for many users, including myself. While I understand the business aspect of the decision, I believe the lack of trying to find a compromise isn’t doing Reddit any good and may only lead to its downfall. The very future of the platform seems at risk. The only thing we can do is wait and see how the conflict will move forward and if a compromise can be found.
Photo credit: The feature image is symbolic and has been taken by Bilal Ülker.
Sources: Reddit / Jay Peters and Mia Sato (The Verge) / Jay Peters (The Verge) / Davey Winder (Forbes) / Wyatte Grantham-Philips (Associated Press)