Reddit has built its own version of BuzzFeed: Upvoted. Unfortunately for Reddit, it won’t work.
Upvoted is a site staffed by editorial employees whose job is to scour Reddit for the content that other websites usually grab, like “Ask Me Anything” sessions or viral personal stories, and turn that stuff into content on Upvoted. Here’s a sample headline: “SooperDavid’s Real Life Doodles Have a (Surprisingly) Uplifting Backstory.”
The project has been hinted at by Reddit’s leadership for months, and it’s the biggest thing yet to come from recently appointed CEO Steve Huffman. Simply put, Upvoted is a chance for Reddit to do for its own content what others have been doing for years.
For Reddit, Upvoted answers a lot of questions. The company, still unprofitable after about a decade, has more than 200 million monthly users. It has thousands of subreddit forums that generate millions of pageviews, a lot of which contain really nasty stuff that gives most advertisers pause.
Reddit, which already faces an uphill battle in controlling the legions of unpaid moderators who effectively run the site, has to find a way to make money on Web ads. Upvoted is a friendlier, curated version of the stuff everyone likes on Reddit, replete with podcasts, video and all the other editorial goodies that high-quality Web publications are supposed to have. Reddit will even be using its editorial staff to write sponsored content, perhaps copycatting something that former proprietor Conde Nast already does.
The thing is, all those other Web publications have had a long time to get good at this. BuzzFeed has been, ah, appropriating from Reddit for effectively as long as both Reddit and BuzzFeed have been around. Upvoted may have the built-in audience of Reddit, but why would repackaged versions of stuff those users are familiar with be all that appealing to them? Additionally, the company isn’t exactly wired to compete on social media, which is where the entire digital media industry seems to be headed.
Aside from the audience problem, Upvoted is also Reddit’s latest attempt to address its longstanding “community problem,” which is a euphemism for the many hateful and abusive segments of Reddit’s community. Because advertisers and normal people are likely turned off by men’s rights activists and white supremacists, the curated content playground of Upvoted looks like it’s designed for Reddit to control more easily than Reddit.com. Basically, it seems as though the company has no confidence in its ability to manage the community on Reddit, so it’s looking to build (a porous-sounding) wall between its “best content” and everything else.
This community moderation problem and its effect on Reddit’s grand strategy, it’s worth mentioning, was a factor in the exit of interim CEO Ellen Pao and engineering chief Bethanye Blount earlier this year. Though that isn’t what Reddit is talking about.
In an email, a company spokesperson explained a bit more about why Reddit launched Upvoted: “Because other news outlets don’t tell the backstory of our communities. We think our users stories need to be told, but with them at the center of it which will not only engage current users — but invite others to absorb our content in a new way — allowing them to enter the Reddit world from a different angle. Our goal, over time, is to figure out how these two worlds can best work together.”
In an announcement post that went up this morning, Reddit product manager Heath Black wrote that Upvoted isn’t “just regurgitating stories.”
“We want to go beyond the upvote and tell stories with you and your communities at the epicenter. What happened before that post was made? What happened afterward?” Heath wrote. “We’re not here to repackage content and present it as our own.”
Maybe so. But there are a lot more people with a lot more money who have been doing this for a lot longer that are quite happy to do just that.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.