Tuesday, February 05, 2008

q&a on reddit, YC, and the future of news

Lerone Wilson, director of the Real World: Geek Edition also known as Aardvark'd, did a bit of Q&A with me for his journalism grad school thesis. He's writing on how the internet is affecting the dissemination of news. I'm not sure how much of this will end up in his final paper, but I'm certain few of you would ever get to read it. So in case you're interested, he gave me permission to publish it.

What has it been like seeing Reddit become so successful, so fast?

Well, it's obviously been quite satisfying, which I think is indicative of how much demand there was (and still is) for improvements to the way we consume news. Or more broadly speaking, the way we learn about what's new in our world.

Did you ever envision yourself accomplishing what you did, so quickly?

Perhaps -- any startup founder has to be a little delusional -- but I also once envisioned myself as an astronaut landing on Mars, so I wouldn't give it much credence.

In retrospect, what was the value of YCombinator? Would Reddit have been possible without their assistance?

reddit would have been possible, but it would have been much more difficult. In fact, it probably would have a very different community and thus be a very different site. We benefited quite a bit by having so many of our early users be thoughtful and well-educated readers of someone like Paul Graham.

If it weren't for YCombinator, we'd also never have met someone like Chris Slowe, who's been as good of a friend to Steve and me as he's been a valuable asset to reddit.

Are you surprised at how much time people spend reading/posting on Reddit?

Considering the amount of time I know we spend reading/posting on reddit, no.

For a lot of people, sites like Reddit and Digg are their primary sources of news. Do you see this trend growing? What are your thoughts on the future of news sites - should editors be uneasy about job security?

As a business-guy, I certainly hope this trend continues to grow. As a citizen, I hope people still complement reddit with alternate sources of news.

News sites are going to evolve. I believe the greatest strength of a site like reddit is the brand agnosticism. By that I mean the value of a news source is no longer the brand "New York Times," but the content itself. A link will do well on reddit based on its own merit -- no one evaluates the brand. And why should CNN be everyone's source for a news event in SmallTown, USA when there's a local newspaper there that will offer a much better perspective?

This just means the gray lady can't keep getting by on her reputation, but she's got newsrooms full of talented journalists (who've always been the most valuable asset in the company) who should see this as a great opportunity.

Editors needn't start updating their resumes anytime soon, as sites like reddit have a symbiotic relationship with traditional news sources -- a significant percentage of our content comes from them and I suspect they're happy to receive all the pageviews.

reddit does what news sources have always done -- give readers the stories they want to read (it's a business, after all) -- we just do it much more efficiently.

*edit: While I believe the vast majority of news sources are run like profit-driven businesses (because they are businesses), I wish it weren't the case. I believe there's an obvious reason why some of the best news sources (e.g., The Guardian and PBS) aren't for-profit enterprises.