Reddit's Impending Shutdown


Reddit will be shutting down API access on 30 June 2023 by gating it behind unsustainably-high access fees. This has resulted in the shutdown of Apollo, Sync, RIF and others. It's the end of an era for the internet: I just hopped over to Reddit to check my account, and saw I created it 17 years ago! For a site that bills itself as "The Front Page of the Internet", they don't seem to care much about their users.

I've been thinking about how VC money changes the old business models, given that Reddit took over $1B in VC funding, and is now working to recoup that with an IPO. There's always been businesses that rely on duping folks: the street-side vendor hocking dubious wares is as old as time. The vendor pushing low-quality goods might draw in those that are desperate or inexperienced, but those that know the goods are shoddy do business elsewhere. So there's a sort of filter, and those that know the situation can choose to shop elsewhere, simply walking by before ever talking to the vendor.

What's different with VC funding is when people get filtered out. Reddit is like the vendor, but rather than spending the last 17 years selling shoddy goods, they offered an amazingly diverse place for discussion online that fostered a huge ecosystem of volunteers and products. This didn't attract just those that are desperate or inexperienced, but rather drew in millions of users from all walks of life, and in many ways did succeed in creating "the front page of the internet". But as Cory Doctorow points out in his essay about TikTok, providing such a great experience while remaining unprofitable for over a decade simply doesn't work: there has to be a next step to the strategy.

The next step, of course, is to alter the deal: by taking away the very things that led to its success, Reddit gives users a lose-lose choice: walk away from the community you've enjoyed for years, or put up with the continually-degrading user experience of the official Reddit clients. By forcing users to filter themselves out after they've invested in the platform, Reddit will no doubt retain users that would have never even joined if this setup were present from the start.

None of this is unique to Reddit, sadly. Doctorow highlights it with Amazon and TikTok, but it's true almost everywhere online, from the "free tier" of various services that eventually disappear to ever-more-invasive data collection by companies that want to better target advertisements, if something seems like it's too good of a probably is.