The Passive Community Management Of The Reddit Organism
Recently on Reddit I got to being one of the moderators for a smallish but growing subreddit of around 7000 or so. I found this to be an interesting new opportunity, honestly. I think if you’ve been reading my blog by now you’ve gotten an idea that I know a little bit about online community management both inside and outside of the games industry, and have a lot to offer in terms of building them from the ground up. But I’m always on the lookout for more ways to expand knowledge and becoming a reddit moderator seemed to be one of them – that, and this way I’d maybe feel a little more productive with my reddit time, right?
I’ve learned a few things about how reddit moderators cultivate their communities in my brief stint so far, but one of the most curious was the idea that passive community management was the preferred method of building community. By this I mean that there’s a policy of non-interference in most cases, and importance is placed more on what the community wants, builds, and posts rather than what the management of that community does in order to make things better. There’ve even been a couple times I’ve suggested more active presence and initiative, only to encounter a bit of unease and confusion about the value of it versus simply allowing the community to take care of it by themselves.
In many cases, this is totally in line with the Reddit spirit. Redditors tend to value freedom of information sharing and communication above all else. Subreddit moderators on the whole are more willing to let the community express that freedom and shape themselves, rather than establishing hardline policy that might restrict things. There’s some care and feeding, to be sure (rules restricting controversially divisive topics like religion and politics are commonplace, for example), but for the most part, the community is treated like an organic entity – left to its own devices and evolution, and in many cases, what it chooses to ultimately become. I’ve noticed that those who don’t seem to agree to like what a particular subreddit has evolved into tend to start their own – /r/gaming, for example, has spawned a ton of other subreddits with different standards, communities, and practices (/r/games, /r/ludology, and /r/truegaming are just 3 offshoots). In that sense, it’s like one organism having differing evolutionary paths and creating new versions of itself.
Part of me gets a little twitchy at this sort of “wait and see” practice. I’m sure you’ve read what Kristen and I have posted for Community Series articles and a worthwhile assumption to make would be that we and our peers come from active community management stock. We like to post actively, encourage people to have good discussion, work with others to create collaboration opportunity, and be there visibly building what we obviously care about. But in the end, it’s just something interesting for me to observe about how people manage communities, and one I have to respect. After all, Reddit is definitely successful and well-traveled, and its organic, laissez-faire ways are part of its inherent charm. I wouldn’t be so addicted to it otherwise.