“The Social Organization” by Bradley and McDonald (2011) starts with an interesting couple chapters that gives the reader an indication of their perception of the framework for social interaction online through today’s modern social networking sites. At this point, it doesn’t necessarily go through the inner workings of specific sites, but it does cover general topics such as how online communities collaborate, why they collaborate, and the general principles of this participation (such as transparency, the feeling of independence, and emergence of new content).
What struck me, about half way through the second chapter, is how such a discussion could be easily handled by first introducing someone to a particular website called “reddit”. If I was to introduce any individual that is not up to speed with today’s social networks, I would begin by introducing them to the largest “news” site (technically a news aggregation site). Just to gauge the size of this site, last month (January 2014) reddit (intentionally lowercase) had 112 million unique visitors, is currently ranked on Alexa as the 65th most popular website in the world (26th in the United States), and is worth an estimated $4 billion (worthofweb.com). All of that is great, but really is just to cement the fact that this is a serious player in the web. Now let’s talk about *why* it applies to this topic.
Social Networking can be on any topic, and is just a method to connect people with like interests. The purpose behind reddit is to allow people to post links such as news articles, to videos or music, and to pictures, or they can simply ask a question or post a paragraph of text. They don’t upload them, they merely upload a link to another site such as Youtube. Sounds simple? What happens next is the true genius of the site: they allow users to click a simple up or down arrow which applies a score to the post. Rankings on these items hands the power of raising visibility of something to the users of the site, making control of a given topic of interest part of the user group. Add to that the ability for long comment threads/discussions to occur on that link, and what you have is a site that allows people to post things under categories (called sub-reddits) such as News, Music, Politics, JazzMusic, and thousands of other user groups. Not enough? Users can gain their own rankings through the number of “upvotes” or “downvotes” they get on the popularity of posts they make both through links and their comments. This rich community is a self-filtered, world driven, and modern achievement of web 2.0.
So, why am I posting this again? Because if I wanted to teach someone about web 2.0, why blogs and online communities are a great thing, and what can be done with something when you have a truly good vision of how to use it, I would have them spend a couple days on reddit, and then teach them why they elected to do one thing vs another, and how mass collaboration, why user judgement and feedback and how interest is cultivated not by the site creator, but by the users of that social network and how that principle is lost by most enterprises attempting to implement them in-house.