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Why Reddit’s New App Could Be Bad News for Reddit Developers

Reddit recently released its first-ever mobile app developed entirely in-house, and not everyone is thrilled about it.
May 3, 2016, 9:15pm

On April 7, Reddit the company took the wraps off Reddit the app, a bite-sized version of the front page of the internet that's designed to comfortably fit the screen of your iPhone or Android. It's not the first mobile app to come out of the house that Alexis Ohanian built—those honors go to a re-skinned version of Alien Blue that Reddit released in October 2014—but is the first one built entirely within said house.

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It was a big deal for not just for the company, but also for the community (the collection of posters and lurkers who collectively accounted for more than 227 million pageviews last month) and third-party developers who released their own Reddit apps with names like Eggplant and Redditor, filling in the app gap left by the lack of a truly first class mobile Reddit experience.

Exactly what happens to these developers now that they're competing against Reddit itself is perhaps less clear.

"I believe the official app will be a new starting point for people who are new to Reddit," said Carlos Crane, the developer of Reddit app Slide. To Carlos and several other developers Motherboard spoke with, the introduction of Reddit's new app is seen as a net positive: Its introduction will get more and more people searching for "reddit" in app stores, thereby potentially exposing more users to their own apps.

"[An official app] gives users new to the site a clear place to start on mobile," said Stephen Ceresia, the developer of Eggplant, a Reddit app designed to read image-heavy subreddits.

The developers behind popular app BaconReader similarly told Motherboard that the introduction of an official app will likely "bring more attention to Reddit in general," which they full-stop called a "good thing."

Of course, the introduction of an official Reddit app may also turn out to be a bad thing for developers and the people who use their apps on a daily basis. More than one developer told Motherboard they're concerned that Reddit may reserve special features only for its app. "If the official Reddit app gives push notifications for new messages but then does not allow third party apps to do the same feature (by not making it public in an SDK or API), then Antenna users will naturally move to the official app," said Antenna developer Alistair Leszkiewicz.

Reddit, it should be noted, says it has no intention of doing such a thing, telling Motherboard that it's "grateful" for its third-party developers, and that it's "committed to a free and open API," the bit of software that allows apps to communicate with Reddit's servers.

Developers, however, were told a similar story in Twitter's formative days, before the company unceremoniously pulled the rug from underneath their feet in the summer of 2012.

"I'd like to make the best app," said Redditor developer Steven Guo, "but if the playing field is not even I may have to stop developing for it eventually."

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly linked to the traffic stats for /r/AskReddit and not the stats for Reddit overall.