Reddit Communities Go Dark in Protest Of New API Changes
June 13, 2023
Thousands of Reddit communities recently took a collective stand by restricting user access as a coordinated effort to protest against the platform’s new policy, which charges developers for access to its backend interface.
The backlash resulted in the temporary crash of the entire site on Monday. This article discusses the significance of the protest, the policy changes, and the impact on developers and Reddit’s community.
The New Developer Access Policy
Last month, Reddit announced its decision to charge certain developers for access to its API, the backend interface that allows developers to interact with the platform’s data.
Under the new policy, developers building apps for Reddit or conducting research will not be charged.
However, those seeking to use Reddit’s data for commercial purposes unrelated to benefiting the Reddit community will no longer have free access starting from June 19.
Impact on Developers
The policy changes have sparked concern among developers who rely on Reddit’s data. For instance, Christian Selig, the developer behind the popular Reddit thread reading app called Apollo, revealed that the new pricing model would cost his app $20 million annually.
Consequently, Apollo will be forced to shut down on June 30. The unrestricted access to Reddit’s vast pool of data had allowed developers to leverage it for training AI algorithms used by major tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI.
The Community’s Response
In response to the new policy, many of Reddit’s popular communities joined forces in a coordinated effort to turn thousands of subreddit channels private for at least 48 hours, starting on Monday.
However, the duration of the blackout remains uncertain. While Reddit’s CEO and co-founder, Steve Huffman, acknowledged the feedback from the community of channel moderators, he has not announced any plans to roll back the new policy.
The Broader Context
Reddit’s move to charge for backend access reflects a growing trend among tech companies as the advertising market slows down.
Twitter, for example, earlier this year restricted access to its backend interface unless developers were willing to pay substantial monthly fees.
Furthermore, Reddit’s decision comes at a time when the platform has been forced to make cuts and adjust its expectations due to a broader ad market slowdown. The company recently laid off around 5% of its workforce and scaled back its hiring plans.
The widespread protest and temporary blackout of numerous Reddit communities in response to the platform’s new developer access policy highlight the significant concerns shared by developers and the wider Reddit community.
The decision to charge for backend access aligns with a broader trend in the tech industry, as companies seek alternative revenue sources amidst a slowdown in the advertising market.
Nevertheless, this protest raises crucial questions about finding a balance between monetizing data and preserving accessibility for developers.
On the one hand, the policy change aims to prevent large companies from benefiting from Reddit’s valuable data without contributing to the community. On the other hand, it poses potential problems for smaller developers and researchers. Those who rely on open access to innovate and create valuable applications.
The outcome of the protest and the future direction of Reddit’s developer access policy remain uncertain. Reddit’s CEO acknowledged the feedback from channel moderators. But there have been no official announcements about a potential reversal of the new policy.
Resolution of this impasse will likely have repercussions for Reddit and its community. But also on the tech industry in general, as other platforms will face similar challenges.
Reddit’s financial prospects and valuation, given its confidential IPO filing over a year and a half ago, will be influenced by these recent developments.
Reddit must adapt to changing market dynamics and establish sustainable revenue models without alienating its user base. This given by the slowing advertising market and recent staff reductions.
Ultimately, the protest serves as a reminder of the ongoing debate surrounding the delicate balance between commercial interests, data accessibility, and community benefits.
The paper highlights the far-reaching implications that decisions about developer access to backend interfaces can have. Not only for individual developers and communities, but also for the broader technology and innovation ecosystem.