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How Reddit Got Huge: Tons of Fake Accounts

According to Reddit cofounder Steve Huffman, in the early days the Reddit crew just faked it ‘til they made it.

Is Reddit the most powerful website on the Internet? Yeah, that’s a pretty bold question to even be asking, especially considering it’s only ranked 121 on Alexa. But in terms of power, not traffic, Reddit is certainly up there. It’s huge, it’s deep, and it’s got an uncanny ability to push content into the viral zone (which should be the name of a TV show) and basically be the Internet’s tastemaker. But how did it get that way?


Well, according to Reddit cofounder Steve Huffman, in the early days the Reddit crew just faked it ‘til they made it. In the above video for Udacity, an online source for education and lectures, Huffman describes how the first Redditors populated the site’s content with tons of fake accounts.

These days, with the site’s users wary of people using expendable accounts to try to seed their own content (and, like other sites, Reddit shadowbans users), it seems nuts that an army of fakers would be seeding content all over the site, the wealth of parody accounts on Reddit notwithstanding. But early on, Huffman said that using fake accounts driven by the founders was key to building the tone they wanted to the site. Basically, by populating the site with accounts whose strings they pulled, the Reddit crew could shape the discourse and sharing of the site in the direction they wanted, and as the real user base grew, those standards held, allowing the fake accounts to fade away.

It’s fascinating that such a massive user base could be seeded by a few guys with a whole bunch of avatars. It’s an incredible example of the Internet’s power to magnify one’s own voice. But, still, this goes way beyond spreading a blog post around. I mean, these guys built an actual community around their own puppet accounts. Incredible and brilliant, sure, but it’s also the stuff of an existential crisis: If avatars have that much power to build cohesion in a group, how can you know that anything is real online? I guess it’s fitting then that Alan Turing’s 100th birthday would have been this Saturday.

Video via Geekosystem.

Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.