So, Reddit has gone dark - and with it, my main source of phone-staring time-wasting during my evenings at home. Bah.
For those out of the loop, the Reddit blackout is a 2-day protest being held by the vast majority of the social media platform’s ‘subreddit’ communities, where moderators have made their subreddits temporarily private to block access. This is being done in response to Reddit copying Twitter, trying to charge third-party developers extortionate fees for the site’s API access.
Four major client apps for Reddit - Apollo, Reddit is Fun, ReddPlanet, and Sync - have stated that they plan to shut down rather than cave to Reddit’s sudden API demands. I personally use Sync, but all four are excellent; notably, Apollo is widely considered to be the best way to use Reddit on iOS devices.
The Reddit community is up in arms about the planned changes, with many slamming CEO Steve Huffman on the site and beyond. As someone who spends a lot of time dancing between wildly different subreddits, I can comfortably say that the widespread perception is that the planned changes are simply greedy and will damage Reddit’s bottom line in the long run.
The problem with Reddit
But surely we could just go back to using the official Reddit app, right? Wrong, as it turns out. I hadn’t used the actual Reddit app on Android for years before writing this article, but I redownloaded it and signed in to see what my browsing experiences would be like in a post-Sync world.
Bad, as it turns out. The official Reddit app is functional, sure, but it’s poorly optimized, loaded with ads, and sorely lacking in accessibility features. The latter is something many people have to use third-party tools for. Oh, and the in-app video player seems to have a mind of its own; sometimes it just refused to play videos, or played them one frame at a time, or cut out the audio for no apparent reason.
So I’m not exactly enthused about the idea of my preferred Reddit client - and everyone else’s - being taken down because Reddit’s controlling shareholders saw Elon Musk trying to squeeze third-party devs over on Twitter and thought ‘boy, we should be more like him!’
It's not even like it's necessary, frankly. Reddit was worth a whopping $15 billion dollars as of 2021; the site is estimated to pull in more than half a billion dollars in revenue every year, too.
We reached out for comment and received both a statement that Reddit has to "spend multi-millions of dollars on hosting fees" as well as a slightly catty remark claiming that "Apollo is notably less efficient than other third-party apps" in terms of the number of API requests it makes. Apollo creator Christian Selig posted on Reddit to claim that the platform's management had spread slander about him internally, further muddying the waters and hinting at a possible vendetta against Apollo.
Granted, it's worth noting that API access for moderators and tools that aren't monetized themselves will remain free, and Reddit explained in a post on the site that it plans to add more tools to improve the moderating experience - something that will likely be necessary since subreddits are largely run by volunteer mods, many of whom plan to quit once their preferred client goes down.
If Reddit management had taken the precaution of improving their own first-party app before the announcement that they would be price-gouging access to the social media platform’s API, perhaps the reaction wouldn’t have been so aggressive. As it stands, this could actually be the death of Reddit - or at least, the death of Reddit as we know it today.
What happens next?
People are already migrating away from Reddit as a result of the API changes; I’m already in a handful of Discord servers that were created by the mods of small subreddits as a refuge during the blackout. Chances are that if everything goes according to Reddit’s plans, those could become permanent homes for communities abandoning the site.
It’s fascinating to see that Reddit seemingly plans to charge ahead with its API monetization - especially when it looks like its biggest potential customers have collectively downed tools in response. Charging through the nose for API access won’t do you any good if nobody is willing to pay you for it, Mr Huffman, but it very much will damage your platform’s reputation.
It makes me sad, really. I’ve been using Reddit since I was a teenager, and it was an incredibly valuable resource to me as a young queer person, discovering myself and forging bonds within welcoming online communities.
It’s the perfect one-stop-shop for gamers and tech enthusiasts like me too; there’s nowhere else I can have the same conversations about weird little quirks of computer hardware. Fun activities like r/Place - an annual group project where users could collectively paint a huge digital canvas one pixel at a time - really helped set it apart from the rest of the social media landscape.
I think I really will be joining the legions who plan to depart. Not only do I morally disagree with Reddit’s stance on this, but I simply don’t think I’d have a good time using it on my phone without Sync. I can only hope that Huffman and his board change their minds, but I don’t really see it happening. Farewell, Reddit - you were good while you lasted.
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Christian is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing Editor. He came to us from Maximum PC magazine, where he fell in love with computer hardware and building PCs. He was a regular fixture amongst our freelance review team before making the jump to TechRadar, and can usually be found drooling over the latest high-end graphics card or gaming laptop before looking at his bank account balance and crying.
Christian is a keen campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights and the owner of a charming rescue dog named Lucy, having adopted her after he beat cancer in 2021. She keeps him fit and healthy through a combination of face-licking and long walks, and only occasionally barks at him to demand treats when he’s trying to work from home.