The past year was great for Reddit, a social news website.
According to Reddit officials, page-views jumped from 250 million in January 2010 to 829 million in December 2010. Quantcast, a third-party website that tracks traffic, confirmed the magnitude of the increase.
Contrastingly, other social news websites generally saw their traffic decrease last year.
Why did Reddit grow so much?
The reason, I believe, is that Reddit users, or Redditors, are awesome.
But first, I'll explain what's wrong with other online communities. Not all of their users are at fault, but enough of them are.
One, far too many comments are just sarcastic and witty remarks that add absolutely no meaning or significance. Some of them are very clever and funny and I'm entertained by them. However, at some point, it gets old.
Sometimes, entire threads are hijacked by this mentality and turns them into a string of utterly meaningless banter. It's funny the first 10,000 times you see it, but eventually, it gets old.
Two, many people on these sites are plain old mean. In fact, it seems like their whole purpose for participating in these communities is to tear apart the opinions and assertions of others. This is especially true in websites centered on specific fields like technology and finance.
I believe this mentality started off as a culture of seeking for the truth, which is good. Many of these online communities did expose hidden truths and discredited bad information.
However, there is a fine line between constructively seeking the truth and hijacking a legitimate thread or piece of news by unnecessarily pointing out some tangential error or attacking an illustrative example that's not central to the main point being discussed.
This culture is counterproductive.
It's more about having an intellectual ego trip at the expense of others rather than fostering intelligent, informative, interesting, and invigorating discussions.
As far as I can see, Reddit is a major online community that's largely free from these two issues.
There, people are actually nice and supportive, even when they're making those meaningless but witty comments or debating and disagreeing with each other. There is also a real sense of community at Reddit.
People ultimately want to come to a place where they're respected, treated with kindness, and feel like they belong to a warm community. I know I sound like a hippie right now -- and some bitter souls don't want to admit it -- but it's true.
This is the kind of environment, which Reddit has, that will keep people coming back because it doesn't get old, even after the 10,000th time.
Like other social news websites, Reddit posts interesting, relevant, and hot news.
What sets Reddit apart, however, is the large number of human interest and 'citizen journalism' stories that are posted, which does wonders for fostering a sense of community and belonging.
For example, today, on January 5th, the what's hot stories include a cool t-shirt a Redditor made for her boyfriend, a detailed response a Redditor received when he wrote a letter to his senator, and a homeless man with a radio voice.
The homeless man with the radio voice (his name is Ted Williams) illustrates the most important strength of Reddit, which is that it has a group of core members that are extremely active and committed, which makes Reddit a powerful community.
It began when a Redditor named shiggiddie posted a video of Williams (shot by Columbus Dispatch journalist Doral Chenoweth) that showcased his radio quality voice and told his story, which is that he was inspired to train and develop his voice at the age of 14 when he met a radio announcer, but alcohol, drugs, and few other things derailed his plans. Williams said he has been drug-free for two years and is trying hard pursue his voice career again.
Redditors took interest in the story. The committed members also took action.
Since shiggiddie first posted the video, Redditors have set up a website for Williams, offered to buy him a cell phone, offered to donate him a suit (and dress shoes to go along with it) for a job interview, and raised at least $826 to help him with the transition from homelessness.
Moreover, at least six Redditors went to physically look for Williams (because he's homeless and could not be easily located) and at least nine of them offered him a job or connections to get a job.
Now, thanks in large part to exposure on Reddit, Williams has been interviewed on local radio, national TV, and apparently has offers from MTV, various radio stations, and even a reality TV show, according to shiggiddie.
The impact of Redditors on the real world, of course, further strengthens their sense of community and belonging.
Williams is just one example.
According to Reddit, Redditors raised $185,356.70 for the earthquake in Haiti, $601,269 for DonorsChoose (a charity for U.S. public schools), and gave 13,000 verified secret Santa gifts. It even started a friendly holiday season charity fundraising competition among Christian Redditors, Muslim Redditors, and Atheist Redditors.
As far as I know, no online community can boast of such accomplishments.
Reddit may not be the largest online community, but I believe it is certainly one of the most powerful.
Online or offline, experts have long known that the real power of a group lies in how many committed members it has.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has is a famous quote from Margaret Mead that captures this concept.
Moreover, the best way to grow the size of a community is through the development and cultivation of existing members to make them more committed and connected. This group of core members then set an attractive tone for the community and membership organically grows this way.
This idea is echoed in Seth Godin's book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.
The less effective tactic in growing memberships is spending energy recruiting new members (at the expense of strengthening existing ones) through gimmicks and other shallow incentives.
I believe the latter, less effective approach is used by the business owners of many online social communities. Reddit, on the other hand, benefits from the former, more desirable method.
I'm not sure if the business owners of Reddit are doing this on purpose or that Reddit, for whatever reason, just developed this way. It would be an interesting endeavor to find the answer to this question.
But whatever the reason, I believe one thing is clear : Redditors are awesome and they're responsible for Reddit's phenomenal growth in 2010.
Email Hao Li at email@example.com