Last year, Reddit product chief Dan McComas and community support staffer Victoria Taylor were among a group of employees who either left or were fired by the company as part of an executive reorganization.
Their exit, Taylor's in particular, incited a sweeping backlash among community moderators across the social news site, who basically shut down huge swaths of Reddit.
Afterward, McComas says he thought a lot about what went down, and left the Bay Area to move back to Utah.
"I found myself with some time looking back at what the fuck had just happened," he told Recode in a phone interview.
Now, McComas has his answer. He, along with his wife, ex-Reddit community lead Jessica Moreno, are launching a new Reddit-like community service called Imzy. To get his venture off the ground, he's raised $3 million in seed funding from Charles River Ventures' Saar Gur and O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures' Bryce Roberts.
The concept of Imzy, which is currently in beta, is relatively straightforward: There are different community pages that are organized around individual topics or people, kind of like a fan page. Initial Imzy partners include Lena Dunham's LennyLetter, "Community" creator Dan Harmon and Harmon's podcasting network Feral Audio.
You have to be a member in order to post in Imzy's sections, and there's a developer platform with tie-ins to services like Twitch or YouTube. McComas says that moderators can chat with Imzy support staff around the clock, and there's a special data "dashboard" mods get access to.
McComas and Moreno are also serious about building a commerce angle into Imzy. The pair co-founded Reddit Gifts in 2009; it was acquired by Reddit in 2011.
There's a payments system running under Imzy so that community members can donate money to the volunteer moderators who run the show, or perhaps pay for stuff that people like Harmon or Dunham offer.
McComas has six other ex-Reddit employees onboard, and he has recruited other former Reddit moderators to help out with the project. He says that the staff is prioritizing building healthy community norms before figuring out how it will scale.
For instance, that's why you need to be a subscriber to a community in order to post, and why Imzy won't have a homepage feed resembling Reddit's front page. Site architecture decisions like this are tweaks that make it harder for casual users to access content on Imzy, but McComas (and other people who specialize in online community behavior) say they are essential to fostering a sense of safety and mutual respect from the outset.
Imzy's business won't revolve around ads, because the digital ad game requires rapid audience growth that McComas argues is at odds with the goals of community development.
"With ads, you get into this game of selling certain kinds of ads, and then you need to add enough traffic to those communities. This flies directly in the face of keeping communities healthy," McComas said.
McComas is candid that this kind of model — eschewing advertising for commerce, actively discouraging the scale-at-all-costs strategy of most content services — is relatively untested.
"What if someone tried building a community platform from day one? Is the terribleness just an inherent part of the internet [or] can communities be made online in a healthy way?" McComas said. "It might not work out, but I hope it does."
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.