Reddit CEO Steve Huffman is not backing down amid protests against API changes made by the platform. In interviews with The Verge, NBCNews and NPR, Huffman defended business decisions made by the company to charge third-party apps saying the API wasn’t designed to support these clients.
The Reddit co-founder also talked about protesting moderators, changing site rules, and profitability in these interviews. The platform is facing one of the strongest backlashes from the community, but the CEO seemingly doesn’t want to budge.
What’s happening at Reddit?
In April, Reddit announced that it is going to charge for its API, but didn’t announce any pricing. Earlier this month, Christian Selig, the developer of a popular Reddit client for iOS called Apollo, posted that he had a call with Reddit. API pricing quoted by them could cost him $20 million a year to run the app. Selig later said that, because the social network is not ready to make any changes to the pricing structure, he is forced to shut down Apollo. Other third-party developers of clients like Reddit is Fun and Relay for Reddit also said that they will shut down their apps on June 30.
The only exception Reddit made was to allow free access to the API to non-commercial apps providing accessibility features. The company has made deals with apps like RedReader, Dystopia, and Luna and given them exemptions from its “large-scale pricing terms.”
Thousands of subreddits went dark starting June 12 to protest those changes — it caused a brief outage as well. Meanwhile, Huffman took a strong stance in his AMA and took a dig at Apollo and Selig. As moderators didn’t see anything changing, many subreddits decided to extend the blackout.
Protests and moderators
In one of the interviews, Huffman even called protesting moderators “landed gentry.”
“If you’re a politician or a business owner, you are accountable to your constituents. So a politician needs to be elected, and a business owner can be fired by its shareholders,” he said.
“And I think, on Reddit, the analogy is closer to the landed gentry: The people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic.”
He added that he plans to make changes to moderator policies so users can vote them out. Currently, a higher-ranking moderator — or the company — can boot out moderators. Incidentally, a r/Apple moderator posted on Twitter (via 9to5Mac) that Reddit was threatening to remove moderators who are staging an indefinite blackout.
In a blog post published by Reddit, the company links to its Moderator Code of Conduct while saying “Dissent, debate, and discussions are foundational parts of Reddit” and it respects the right to protests. However, the rules state that the company can remove moderators if they are uncooperative.
Despite these statements, Huffman said that Reddit wasn’t going to invest in paid moderators within the company or make decisions that centralize power.
That indicates that the company is happy to have unpaid moderators monitor and maintain the communities. A study published last year estimated that they spend 466 hours per day on maintaining these communities. It said that if Reddit paid them $20 per hour, it would cost them $3.4 million annually.
A major issue in focus during these protests has been the existence of third-party apps. Time and time Reddit has said that it will still offer free access to the data API — and the majority of the apps, like bots, won’t have to pay as they are not commercialized.
In the past few weeks, Huffman has talked about commercialization and making Reddit profitable. One of the steps of this process involves charging for the API. In the latest set of interviews, he said that Reddit is “perfectly willing to work with the folks who want to work with us” and talk about giving developers a longer transition period. Huffman’s gripe is that some of these apps make millions every year using Reddit’s data, and the company has to bear infrastructure costs of up to $10 million every year, he told The Verge.
He told the publication that he was the person inside the company who was responsible for this policy change that affect these apps. Seemingly, the company has been discussing changes in API rules for years.
“[Reddit’s API] was never designed to support third-party apps. We let it exist. And I should take the blame for that because I was the guy arguing for that for a long time. But I didn’t know — and this is my fault — the extent that they were profiting off of our API. That these were not charities,” Huffman said.
The numbers game
On Thursday, Reddit posted a blog post indicating that 80% of the top 5,000 communities in terms of daily active users are now open. Huffman told NPR that protestors are a “small group that’s very upset” and the “greater Reddit community” is participating to support them.
He added that, despite these protests causing “a fair amount of trouble,” there wasn’t a significant effect on the company’s revenue. However, reports suggested that some advertisers had paused campaigns during the blackout. The company has been pushing out more ad tools to attract advertisers.
On the impact of third-party apps being shut down, Huffman said 97% of people use Reddit’s site or official app to access the platform — the company has a daily active user base of 57 million. The blog post also mentioned that 93% of moderator actions are taken through Reddit’s own tools and the company has promised to add more features to them. The post and Huffman’s comments are trying to indicate that protests are led by only a small set of users and don’t represent the sentiments of a larger user base.
While there have been talks about Reddit going public, the CEO is focused on profitability first. He told The Verge that an IPO is “something we’d like to do someday” but there were “a few things I’d like to do with Reddit before we get there.”
In response to Huffman’s comments, moderators are trying to find ways to make blackouts effective. Alternatively, some communities are also setting up servers on alternative sites like Lemmy and Kbin.