For as big as it is, internet content and the brands that create it walk a very fine line. As reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian explained, “Everyone who creates something online has lost control of their message, but in the process has gained access to a global audience.”
Since the dawn of dial-up, the internet has proved to be a beautifully messy web. Like more traditional webs of the spider variety, it is intricate and connected, and the final product is strong enough to support life. But unlike its namesake, the net was initially much less organized. There seemed no method to the madness, no filter to the noise. In reality, it was sometimes more like a needle in a haystack.
This is precisely why in 2005, after a failed foray into the mobile app space, Ohanian and his UVA hall-mate Steve Huffman set out to build “the front page of the internet,” as reddit is so often and lovingly called. After initially pitching Y Combinator Founder Paul Graham on a mobile ordering service over a few beers, the duo received some valuable advice and quickly switched their concept to something that was more relevant and much more essential at the time.
First Ever reddit Submission – “The Drowning Street Memo”
photo credit: Flickr
Why is it called reddit?
Long before reddit was the site we all know and love, Ohanian and Huffman actually conceptualized a way to order food at a gas station via mobile. (You can’t make this stuff up.) When Ohanian and Huffman first pitched Paul Graham with this mobile ordering app, Graham suggested they aim for a web application instead. He did this because mobile use wasn’t as big then as it is now (I know, it’s hard to imagine) and there wouldn’t even have been an app store to host it.
They took this advice to heart and instead, the pair envisioned a new kind of homepage. They set out to create a launching pad for the rest of the internet, a place where readers could find a more organized version of the web. Thus, the name reddit came from exactly what the site was hoping people would do – read it. In fact, the reddit FAQ boldly states, “It’s (sort of) a play on words — i.e., ‘I read it on reddit.’” Because who doesn’t love a good pun?
“Also, there are some unintentional but interesting Latin meanings to the word ‘reddit.'” It turns out, the Latin meaning is “to submit for consideration or approval,” as if it were typed on proverbial stone ages ago. At conception, reddit was imagined as only the best features of their favorite sites already at play. Huffman cites Delicious, a social bookmarking service and SlashDot, a tech news source, as inspiration for their startup.
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Just weeks after being approved by Y Combinator, Graham forced Ohanian and Huffman to launch a less-than-perfect product. At the time, only the bare bones of reddit, and its martian mascot Snoo, went live for all the world wide web to share. Snoo, as it turns out, was “proudly doodled” by Ohanian and has seen many variations over the years. He is one of many simple reddit features that helps fulfill Ohanian’s overarching goal of “making the world suck less.”
Now headquartered in San Francisco, CA, reddit was created as a news source powered by the people for the people; a collaborative way to democratize the information available online. After signing up for a (free) account, users can submit content and then vote content up or down. Those votes eventually determine where the content lives on the site, with the popular stuff landing on – you guessed it – the front page.
It’s likely that the power reddit has given its community hasn’t changed the way we think about brands as much as it has changed the way we influence them. Ohanian explains, “Before the social web, we had little idea of what people actually thought about us—now we know, and when like-minded people band together, they wield a really big stick.” While reddit didn’t necessarily provide the stick, it certainly has something to do with the mass of it.
If you’d like to learn more about entrepreneurship, the permissionless web and Ohanian’s blue print for success, be sure to read his book “Without Their Permission.” Thanks for reading “Why is reddit called reddit?” What do you use as your front page? Comment below! #whyisitcalledreddit
Annelise Schoups is a contributor at Rewind & Capture. With a degree in journalism, experience in public relations, and an education in travel, she is passionate about cultivating knowledge and storytelling.