The last page of the Internet | Deserter

Gradually over the past decade, Reddit has gone from just plain embarrassing but occasionally funny, to actively malicious, to mostly by the way essential. As a platform that has gobbled up niche bulletin boards, it has become home to numerous small, surprisingly helpful enthusiast communities, and has become a repository of immediately available arcane knowledge and first-hand expertise on a bewildering number of topics, from the predictable from the demographically to the somewhat more surprising. And now everything is set to come to an ignominious and self-inflicted end.

Many of Reddit’s largest communities are planning to go offline for 48 hours next week, but some are protesting indefinitely platforms that plan to charge for access to the API, which developers of third-party Reddit apps require to operate and which they previously got for free. . These third-party apps are wildly popular among Reddit’s most engaged members, including many of the moderators of its largest subreddits, in large part because Reddit’s official app sucks and lacks the key features of third-party apps, the most of which were created years before Reddit had an official app.

Some of the most popular apps, such as Apollo and RIF, have already announced that due to the high price set by Reddit for API access, they will be shut down. (You can read the lengthy account of the plight of Apollo’s sole developers here.) What was portrayed by Reddit management, initially, as an attempt to force developers with deep pockets of large AI programs to pay for the ‘access to a huge treasure trove of valuable natural language now feels more like a dirty attempt to kill off third-party apps and force all Reddit users into official, more easily monetizable channels.

Now why, after many years of the status quo seemingly working well for everyone, would Reddit suddenly make this change? Asked in a disastrous public Q&A whether Reddit was getting too profit-oriented, CEO Steve Huffman bluntly replied: We’ll continue to be profit-oriented until the profits come. Unlike some of the 3P apps, we are not profitable.

Here, it should be noted that Reddit filed for an initial public offering in late 2021. It is now 2023, and the IPO still appears to be happening, albeit on far less favorable economic terms for internet companies that, like Reddit, mostly rely on on for-profit advertising. In other words, Reddits has less need to come up with a plan for long-term stability than to rapidly increase its perceived value so that its investors, including (former majority shareholder) Advance Publications, Tencent and various venture capitalists, can cash out this year, having already missed out on a much bigger win at the height of Reddit’s meme stock craze. (In April, The Register reports, finance firm Fidelity, the lead investor in the company’s August 2021 funding round, revised the value of its $28.2 million stake to $16.6 million, a decline of 41%.)

Under such conditions, hurting the value of Reddit, for example, by making its most popular and valuable communities private, is probably the most powerful leverage its users have, but Reddit is still unlikely to reverse course, because what Reddit is chasing is a credible promise that its opinionated user base won’t be a hindrance to explosive growth. Reddit turning out to be useful was, as I said, an accident and unprofitable. If a numerically small number of Reddit’s most dedicated users retreat to other smaller, possibly private places rather than adopting Reddit’s official app, the end result is still a larger portion of Reddit’s massive user base using their official app, which will do a better job than any other third-party alternative of serving whatever abysmal new form of advertising they intend to pioneer.

When I set out to build my own PC early in the pandemic, I wouldn’t have known where to start without Reddit. When I had an arcane home networking problem (about setting up MoCA, or internet-over-coax, to get high-speed internet into every room of our apartment without running ethernet cables through walls), I got an answer accurate and useful from Reddit within an hour of posting. I just asked the exact same question to AI-enabled Bing and got an algorithmic rewrite of a tech support site article that didn’t fix my specific problem.

The Internet’s best resources are almost universally run by volunteers and donation-based, such as Wikipedia and The Internet Archive. Whenever a great resource is accidentally created by a for-profit company, it is eventually destroyed, like Flickr and Google Reader. Reddit I could to be what the Usenet should have been, a hub for Internet discussions on every imaginable topic, were it not also a private company forced to come up with a credible plan to make hosting discussions somehow seem like a profitable venture.

We are living in the end of the useful internet. The future is informed discussion behind closed doors, in Discord and private forums, with the public-facing web increasingly filled with LLM-spawned detritus, bearing only stylistic resemblance to useful information. Finding unbiased, independent product reviews, expert technical support, and all sorts of helpful advice will now resemble the process by which you now search for illegal sports streams or pirated magazine articles. The decades of real human conversation hosted on places like Reddit will prove to be useful training material for the mindless robots and deceptive salesmen who replace it.

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