In what is the clearest indication yet of Reddit's big media ambitions, the company is launching an editorially drive site that will focus on . . .  Reddit.

Upvoted will be all about the happenings on Reddit itself--potentially covering everything from excerpts of question-and-answer sessions with presidential candidates to the back stories behind funny animated gifs to, of course, Random Acts of Pizza. That's right: Reddit is hiring reporters and editors to mine itself.

A fledgling editorial team will operate within Reddit, writing and producing between 10 and 20 articles each day--and it's expected that number will soon grow to 40. The site will also be home to a new web video series the company is developing. New video AMAs and Reddit's podcast will also appear there.

While what the site contains is going to be all inspired by Reddit, it will feel a lot more like a digital publisher than Reddit--it has actual images, nice typefaces, and, in a big departure from Reddit's style, no commenting is allowed. (Despite a name like Upvoted, and despite Reddit's m.o., there will be no voting or reader input of any kind here.)

Perhaps this new stage in the life of Reddit, in which its original founders, Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman, are back at the helm, will in part be defined by a refocusing of the site's ambition to, well, grow by its own design, rather than by the free-wheeling, often anarchic force of its 205 million users. Redditors, as users and moderators are known, have created tens of thousands of topic pages over the past decade, some of which are havens for harassment, hate speech, and vicious online trolling.

What Upvoted will do is pretty up Reddit's content, and attempt to harness some of what other media sites, such as Buzzfeed and Gawker, already routinely harvest from Reddit. The design and the insider-y language and formatting of Reddit can be alienating and intimidating for non-techies who land on one of its pages. Upvoted will be far less so.

The new site's editor is Vickie Chang, a former reporter and web editor who worked at a small Southern California paper called the OC Weekly before moving largely to corporate communications around 2012. She's worked for a Korean beauty-products site, as well as Apple, and, most recently, MySpace (which still exists!).

Reddit has been working on hiring journalists since early September and is still doing so.  A spokesperson won't disclose how many hires the company will make, or how quickly it is planning to scale up. But creating 10 to 20 articles each day, and soon ramping up to 40, is no small feat.

This effort began in part early this year, after Ohanian returned to Reddit full-time. He spearheaded the launch of a podcast (also called Upvoted) in January, which preceded this new site in editorial philosophy. The podcast took off fairly well, with more than a million downloads. Not bad for just some effort by Ohanian, his colleague Michael Pope, a producer, and a microphone. Soon, the company launched an email newsletter to promote it, and to expand on this sort of storytelling.

"Redditors do amazing things--our job with Upvoted is to do what over 205M people can't do very well, which is follow up with individuals or ideas, report on the story beyond the upvotes. All the while giving credit to the original creators, of course," Ohanian wrote in an email to Inc.

These changes started in motion back in November 2014, when Ohanian was tapped as executive chairman of the site, upon the departure of CEO Yishan Wong. This was before the company's more recent staffing turmoil, spurred by the departure of interim CEO Ellen Pao and popular moderator Victoria Taylor. Ohanian had been commuting from his home in New York to work on Reddit in November, fighting the push to move there permanently, still holding onto a vow he made so many years ago to never move to San Francisco.

Ohanian founded Reddit, along with Huffman, in 2005. They built the site based on a suggestions from Paul Graham, who had just launched the startup school Y-Combinator. Graham was a fan of Slashdot, a tech-news aggregator, and thought the pair of recent University of Virginia graduates should build something like it or Delicious, and call it the "front page of the internet."

They did, and in a year Reddit sold to Conde Nast for more than $10 million. After years of estrangement from their company--and at times from each other, according to a new account in Wired--by early this year Ohanian was back near the helm, and by summer, Huffman had returned as well, as CEO.

Ohanian says he came up with this new content strategy that's now launching as Upvoted on one of many of his coast-to-coast flights, early in the year. (He's since caved in and moved to San Francisco to work side-by-side with Huffman.)

In addition to its Upvoted moves, the company has begun producing its own videos, including getting some of its more notable AMA guests on video, and producing an original series that's forthcoming--a potentially lucrative media strategy.

Lucrative, that is, if the company eventually includes advertising on those videos. While the company won't admit to Upvoted's being anything more than an experiment, a move into such monetization seems likely. The company says Upvoted will not run pop-ups or traditional digital ads, but will instead focus on brand-sponsored content--the "native advertising" that appears in the same stream and format as editorial articles. (Buzzfeed rakes in enviable revenue with such ads.)

Chang told Wired the ads will look similar to normal posts. "It could be a piece on Tesla, a piece on how Wi-Fi works," she said. "No matter what, it'll be good content--and it'll just happened [sic] to be sponsored."

For the launch, Chang and her team have teed up stories spanning just a few of its varied and thousands-deep sub-Reddit pages. There's a story about Tom Hanks's favorite sandwich. And one asking scientists what would happen in the, well, unlikely event a black hole happened to form in someone's pocket.

But it's not all fluff--and it manages to still feel like content that might be interesting to a regular "redditor." There's going to be an editorial by Drew Curtis, the founder of alt-nerd-news-and-junk haven Fark.com. Another story explores how the website HeavensGate.com is still operational almost two decades after a mass suicide by the cult group of the same name in a mansion in California.

"There's a sub-Reddit for everything, and there are endless stories for us to share with the community," Ohanian says.

 

Published on: Oct 6, 2015