Jun 12, 2023 - Technology

Thousands of Reddit communities go dark in protest of API changes

Illustration of a glowing computer in the dark with the Reddit Alien on screen looking menacing. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Thousands of Reddit communities restricted user access Monday as part of a coordinated effort to protest the company's new policy to charge developers for access to its backend interface.

Why it matters: The huge influx of subreddits, or channels on the site dedicated to specific topics, shifting to private mode caused the entire site to temporarily crash Monday.

Catch up quick: Reddit last month said it would begin charging certain developers for access to its API, or back-end interface.

  • Developers wishing to use Reddit's API to build apps for Reddit will not be charged, nor will researchers. However, those wishing to use Reddit's data for commercial purposes that don't directly benefit the Reddit community will no longer have free access beginning June 19.
  • The policy changes would mean that some developers would be forced to pay huge sums.
  • Christian Selig, a developer that created an app called Apollo that helps users read Reddit threads, said the new pricing model would cost Apollo $20 million annually. Selig said Apollo would shut down as a result on June 30.

Between the lines: The free access meant that almost any developer could access and leverage Reddit's vast pool of data to train artificial intelligence algorithms leveraged by Big Tech firms, such as Google, Microsoft or OpenAI.

  • "The Reddit corpus of data is really valuable," Reddit's CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman told The New York Times in an April interview. "But we don't need to give all of that value to some of the largest companies in the world for free."

Details: The policy change sparked a revolt amongst some of Reddit's most popular communities, which resulted in a coordinated effort to turn thousands of subreddit channels private for at least 48 hours beginning Monday.

  • It's unclear when the blackout will end.
  • In a post Friday, Huffman said he appreciates the feedback he's received from Reddit's community of channel moderators about the issue but didn't announce any plans to roll back the new policy.
  • Some of Reddit's biggest communities are participating in the blackout, including dozens of channels that have more than 10 million subscribers.

The big picture: More tech firms are charging developers for back-end access as the advertising market slows down.

  • Twitter earlier this year shut off access to its back-end interface to those unwilling to pay thousands of dollars monthly.

What to watch: Reddit confidentially filed to go public more than a year and a half ago. It was reportedly looking to land a $15 billion valuation.

  • A broader ad market slowdown has forced many Big Tech firms, including Reddit, to make cuts and temper expectations.
  • Reddit said it would lay off 90 workers, around 5% of its 2,000 employees, last week. It will also shrink its hiring plans.

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where host Niala Boodhoo and Sara Fischer explain how third parties are using Reddit and why the platform is charging them for its API starting in July.

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