Mark Henley


Reddit (reddit.com) is a social search website that incorporates user-submitted and user-generated content. Reddit calls itself “the front page of the Internet,” a very bold claim to any site, let alone one that hasn’t completely gone mainstream. However, over the past few years, the growth of visitors and reputation in popular culture has made this idea of being “the front page of the Internet” a very distinct possibility.

The idea wasn’t exactly what the founders’ had in mind though. Alex Ohanian and his business partner, Steve Huffman, submitted a pitch in 2005 for a mobile food ordering application at Y Combinator, a startup funding organization. While Y Combinator wasn’t keen on their idea, they liked the two fresh-faced entrepreneurs. Paul Graham, a facilitator at the organization, suggested they build a “front page of the Internet”. With such a broad and unspecific concept, they decided to create a website where the users determined the content. (http://bit.ly/SK7H9q)

How does it work?

It started out very similarly to how it is now. Users submitted links to the site and it showed up as a list. Then, other users could deem it “interesting” or “not interesting.” This original voting system is still in place today in the form of upvotes and downvotes. While it wasn’t the first time this type of ranking was used, Reddit ultimately became popular for a variety of other reasons, which will be illustrated in this chapter.

Reddit has users, called redditors, submit content in the form of self-posts, links to other websites, images, and videos. There is a community of redditors which determines how popular those posts are with upvotes and downvotes. Redditors get “karma” for contributing to the community. Karma is computed by upvotes and downvotes on content and comments that are submitted. The main use of Reddit is finding content and news ranked by users, along with other information and sentiments about topics of interest to the community. In this way, it is a social search engine.  Anyone is welcome to post anything; the users decide what becomes popular.  Since not everyone has the same tastes and preferences, there are “subreddits”, or a sub-community of redditors that has its own “front page” with links to content pertaining to a topic. Some of the most popular subreddits include pics, funny, politics, and AskReddit. Since subreddits are made by the users themselves, there are thousands of different subreddits covering a wide variety of topics (http://bit.ly/NG9O9z).

The majority of Reddit visitors go to casually browse the Internet for interesting and/or funny content. Many people have a site (or multiple sites) that they go to when they’re on the computer at their leisure, and Reddit is one of those sites for millions of people. There are plenty of sites that serve the same general purpose (9gag, 4chan, The Chive, Digg, etc.), but not all visitors fall under that umbrella of wanting to discover funny/interesting content. Some redditors are dedicated members or moderators of a subreddit that involves a hobby or passion. These users go for the social aspect, interacting with a community of like-minded redditors. This gets to the point of why Reddit exists. It’s a very strong and active community of users that decides what content is seen by:

  1. The population at large (e.g. “lurkers”, visitors without accounts)
  2. Themselves (users subscribe to subreddits of their choice)

It’s a customizable social search engine for all. The appeal of Reddit is extremely broad, yet there is a way to find a specialized niche if you seek it out.

Many sites have tried to achieve this (Digg being the most prominent), yet Reddit executes it better and now is rewarded since they have such a large user base. In social networks, this advantage is huge and can lead to an even stronger edge over the competition (re:Facebook).

Like I mentioned, Reddit is best used for finding content at your leisure. It’s most popular for its funny pictures, jokes, memes, and news. It is extremely timely too. News breaks quickly these days, and Reddit is at the forefront of coverage and timeliness (http://tcrn.ch/OeChVo). Checking the front page of Reddit is a reliable source that will show most happenings that breaking news portions of news websites will also have. Along with that, the commentary from users is usually more informed, civil, and enlightening.

Specialized Search Strategies

Reddit has a solid set of search operators in order to specifically explore its content. Below is the list of major search operators:












A few notes about these operators:

  • reddit – instead of clicking to a subreddit and using its search bar, you can use the search bar on the homepage and achieve the same result
  • author – this doesn’t refer to the author of a linked article or picture. Rather, it refers to the redditor that submitted the content. This is a feature of its social search capabilities
  • selftext – find text in the self post, where Redditors don’t link to outside sources, but start their own “thread” with their own writing
  • nsfw – this is the adult content filter. It’s Reddit’s version of SafeSearch. NSFW stands for Not Safe for Work. There is a decent amount of disturbing and pornographic content on Reddit that you can filter out with a search. Certain posts are marked with NSFW to alert visitors

Reddit also supports AND OR operators like a Google Search.  See this page for even more tips and examples.

How to use Reddit

One of the huge advantages of Reddit is the customizable setup you can have. Since there are thousands of subreddits, users can find one that suits their interests. Some subreddits about topics (like /worldnews) are done really well with credible sources, moderators, and a pretty educated and active user base. It can be utilized as a legitimate news source. A lot of subreddits are supported by user-generated self posts, which acts as a forum for questions and discussions.

I have broken down how to use Reddit in two ways: involved and uninvolved. I will go through both. As you may guess, the “involved” way is much more specific, time-consuming, and fulfilling.

I. Involved

The best way to interact with Reddit is to go to the homepage and explore the default subreddits that populate the front page. Most of the titles give away what kind of topic/subreddit they’ll be in. Lurk and discover content that interests you, sign up for your free account and subscribe to the subreddits where that content is coming from. With an account you can join the Reddit community and comment, submit, and save content. Also, you can unsubscribe from the default front page subreddits if certain ones don’t interest you. In the screenshot below, the picture comes from pics. You can see it is in the bottom-right corner of the link information.



Since not all subreddits are on the main page, check out the reddits page or MetaReddit. These have a huge list of subreddits, along with search, to find subreddits about your interests, hobbies, location, etc. Some are better than others, but there are subreddits for just about anything (seriously, the breadth of topics may scare you). When you find a subreddit that may interest you, see what types of content are being posted. Also, you could search for something specific on Reddit by using the search bar on the right side of the screen. You may find an interesting subreddit based on the posts you found from the search. For example, if you found the subreddit for your favorite sports team, are there a lot of linked news articles? Or is it self-posts complaining about how bad they are? Or are all of the articles from over a year ago? No matter which type of coverage you prefer, make sure it is content that will interest you if you check the Reddit consistently.

Once you have the complete list of subreddits that you want, your front page will be very different than the one when you first started. Posts from all of the different subreddits you subscribe to will have a place on the front page, some more than others. That is just the Reddit algorithm determining which shows up more. If you’re looking to only explore one particular subreddit, you can choose it at the top of the front page and on your profile, along with being shown on every post.

To stay even more involved and have a more positive experience, share your thoughts and findings with the community. Not only will the whole community benefit by having another redditor join, but you can help determine which content is shown, which comments are at the top of the thread, and ultimately the direction and feel of a particular subreddit.


You receive posts on your Facebook wall of hilarious photos from your friend. He says they all come from Reddit, a site that he spends a lot of his free time on. You always thought it was just a waste of time, but the pictures he sends are so funny and cute. When you visit, you find that there is so much more than funny pictures of cats. Since you’re extremely interested in science, the AskScience questions pique your interest. Then, there’s a great post about your hometown, Grand Rapids. Further down the front page you see an article about a movie. After one page of browsing, you have three subreddits you want to see more of (r/askscience, r/movies, r/grandrapids). After you make your account and subscribe (and unsubscribe to r/politics), your front page is much more tailored to your interests and the user experience improves dramatically. Sometimes you decide to check on specific subreddits when you only want to see content about certain topics.

II. Uninvolved

The uninvolved way is the way millions of visitors interact with Reddit, and is the beginning stage of the involved way. By browsing Reddit’s default subreddits, you get a glimpse of the main Reddit culture and feel. Millions of visitors are satisfied with this way. It does a good job of promoting the most popular content. Not much specific information will be found this way, but Reddit is an exploratory site; many people go there for no particular reason yet end up learning a lot.

Since Reddit has a search engine (however bad it may be[1]), you can search for information about a specific topic. In the Specialized Search Strategies section above, I highlighted how to use the search bar with advanced search. The next section will compare the results between Google and Reddit. To quickly illustrate the effectiveness of a search, I input [climate change] and while results seemed pretty on topic, the dates varied wildly and none of them linked to actual scientific sources/articles about climate change. Notice, however, that two of them are from AskScience, which has high quality answers with sources. This search typifies what a Reddit search will give you: not the best direct sources, but legitimate answers from the community that can be supported.



It’s late at night and you’ve been working on a paper for eight hours in the library. Boredom has set in, so you visit Reddit to just take a load off and relax. After browsing for a half hour looking at funny pictures, videos, and forum discussions, you realize you need to finish the paper. But not before searching for something about your paper. While the search didn’t bring anything of note, you see a comment about your topic on an AskReddit thread that leads you to think about your paper in a different way. While it took a few hours for that last bit of the paper, you did get a little inspiration from Reddit about your paper’s content.

Get the most out of Reddit

With every tool, there are methods to increase its effectiveness. The “involved” method of using Reddit mentions most of the key ways to do this via a membership. Below is a list of benefits of signing up for a free account.

  • Ability to upvote/downvote comments, submissions
  • Ability to comment on submissions
  • Membership to subreddits/customize front page
  • Create subreddits
  • Save links to view for later with just a click
There is another “productivity” tool for Reddit that many users utilize. There are a few different apps, but Reddit Enhancement Suite (RES) is the most popular (http://www.dailydot.com/news/reddit-enhancement-suite-download). Some of the better and most obvious features are:
  • Never-ending front page (updates as user scrolls down)
  • “View images” no need to open up actual links, it shows up on the front page
  • Save comments
  • See amounts of upvotes and downvotes

While I personally dislike viewing Reddit on a mobile device, it’s very popular to do so. Just like most major websites, there is a suite of mobile apps available to use with Reddit. I’ve used AlienBlue and it’s a very solid app and interface. Here is an article about 5 other free mobile apps, listed below:

  1. BaconReader
  2. Pix-o-Reddit
  3. Reddit News Free
  4. Reddit Pics
  5. Reddit Sync

Comparison with Google

Google Search has been the gold standard of search since practically inception. They’ve paved the way for modern search, along with dozens of other innovations in the Internet age. Search engines have been playing catch-up for years, and no one can quite catch them.

Reddit doesn’t directly compete with Google, but in terms of retrieving information online, they do. Reddit is a social search engine, where finding information has a different method than Google. Here is a comparison of some key characteristics.


The major difference between the two search engines is illustrated by the front page. Google requires you to input a search in order to utilize its search, while the Reddit community decides what visitors see when they first visit.

Under the “Paid” basis for comparison, it says Reddit costs $3.99/month ($29.99/year). The fee acts as a premium membership that has very marginal benefits, such as a badge on your profile, sortable karma by subreddit, and other marginally beneficial features. It was introduced as a way to alleviate the rising costs and prevent more advertisements, something Reddit has prided itself on. It’s not at all necessary to purchase, even if you want to be a serious redditor.


To further explain the differences between the search engines, I will perform a search of [election 2012] on both.

1. [election 2012]



The search on Reddit yielded exclusively self-posts about certain parts of the election. The most popular topics were about Congressional elections, certain candidates, and an “official thread” of the election where users submitted comments as the election results were being announced. No legitimate news sources were featured in the top 25 results.

Besides the actual results, Reddit provides a few sorting mechanisms. Users can sort by relevance (default setting), hot, new, and top. Hot results are extremely similar to the default results. New results are the most recent content submitted, which is usually low quality results with few upvotes. Top results have the most upvotes but can be extremely old (some are 2+ years old). Above the results, there’s a box with relevant subreddits, where you can “election 2012” results by these subreddits. It helps narrow down the results and allows users to discover subreddits.



The results from Google included election coverage from some of the most respected news sources, including Washington Post, Reuters, and Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, high-quality blogs (Huffington Post) and a link to their Google News results were also on the first page. Even as I scroll down the list of results past the first page, they remain high-quality. The depreciation of quality is much faster on Reddit. Google has billions of pages it pulls results from, while Reddit only has their limited stock of submitted content.

Other features from the Google search include “searches related to election 2012”, and the staple of different search tools (time, location, etc.).


As we’ve seen, Reddit should not be used to find hard data or information. While there is a bounty of reliable information about a wide variety of topics, most of it is referenced to information that could be found in a Google search. Reddit is useful because this information is put out into the community, where redditors discuss, make jokes, and further explore the topic in the comment section. There can be extreme bias due to users submitting content anonymously. As history of the Internet has shown, users can hide behind their computers to troll, abuse, and ruin the experience for others. Unfortunately, this is true for Reddit, albeit less than some other similar websites (http://bit.ly/RZNjnf)

Reddit is best for exploring at your leisure. As it has been illustrated before, Google requires you to submit a query to receive back information. Alternatively, there is instant entertainment with Reddit’s front page. You can broadly search for topics, but if there is something more specific than a subreddit, Google is your best bet.

An example of this is searching for pictures of Obama. If you searched for it in Google, you get standard Presidential photos (at a podium, posed). When searching for “obama” in the pics subreddit, there are various pictures with Obama in the title of the post, as seen below.

It really depends on what you want from results. All of the pictures involve Obama, but the Google results will have the standard pictures you expect from that search. Some will want to see funny pictures with Obama, in which case Reddit is more effective.

Also, Reddit is much better if visitors are looking for discussion or short opinions on certain issues, like politics, news, or pop culture. There are subreddits that act as self-help forums. AskReddit, AskScience, ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5), among hundreds others are examples of this. You could Google search certain questions, but the answers may come from unreliable sources (Yahoo! Answers) or hard to find in a specific forum website.

Reddit shouldn’t be used to replace a Google search about definite information. Rather, when feeling exploratory about a certain broad topic or bored online, Reddit is one of the best options on the Internet. Millions of users never use the search function or delve into the subreddits beyond maybe clicking through to r/funny or r/pics. Instead of searching for “funny pictures” or “cute pictures”, there are great subreddits that have high-quality, organized results in a clean interface. Or instead of looking for obscure or difficult questions, ask AskReddit or AskScience for their input. It’s not instant, but it will most likely yield higher quality answers than a Google search after soaking in the Reddit community for a while.


Reddit has become one of the most prolific online time-drainers in the past couple of years. With President Obama’s AmA, Reddit achieved some publicity and attracted more visitors. The site hasn’t gone without controversy though. Many people have criticized Reddit for its less-than-moral content, and while it usually stands by its freedom of speech, they have taken down some illegal subreddits. Reddit’s content reach is nearly as expansive as the Internet; its community is extremely distinct and is what sets Reddit as a social search engine apart from all other search engines.

TL;DR (Too Long;Didn’t Read) Reddit is extremely useful when casually browsing the Internet, searching for sentiments about certain topics, and being involved in an online community. The search features, however, do not make it comparable to a Google search when looking for information or data.

Works Cited

Reddit. http://www.reddit.com – The basis of this book chapter. A very popular social search website.

Google. http://www.google.com – The basis of comparison against Reddit. The most popular search engine in the world.

A Guide to Reddit Etiquette and How to Get More Votes on Reddit. http://hunchmag.com/a-guide-to-reddit-etiquette-and-how-to-get-more-votes-on-reddit/ – Information about how to operate on Reddit. This information is also available on the website.

Reddit Picture. Image. http://blog.linkibol.com/resource/reddit.PNG – This was the image I used throughout the chapter.

How I Did It. http://www.inc.com/magazine/201206/christine-lagorio/alexis-ohanian-reddit-how-i-did-it.html – An interview with the founder of Reddit and how it came to be.

The History of Reddit. http://www.stikkymedia.com/blog/history-reddit – This page was used to find the history of Reddit and how it came to be.

Reddit Transforms into Incredibly Informative...http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/20/reddit-aurora-shooting/ – Article explaining how Reddit was a major “news outlet” for coverage about the Aurora shooting.

Barack Obama AMA on Reddit. http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/z1c9z/i_am_barack_obama_president_of_the_united_states/ – The AMA (Ask Me Anything) on reddit.com

Beyond the Front Page of the Internet. http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/beyond-the-front-page-of-the-internet-20120927-26m8i.html – Discusses the immoral side of Reddit.


Why do People love Reddit? http://www.quora.com/reddit/Why-do-people-love-Reddit – Blog and discussion about why Reddit is adored by so many visitors and users.

Reddit Gold. http://www.reddit.com/gold/about – Explains what Reddit Gold is, why it’s necessary, and what users will receive.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reddit – Wikipedia page of Reddit, giving good reference info when necessary.

http://www.reddit.com/help/faq – The Frequently Asked Section of Reddit.

http://www.reddit.com/help/search – The search help page of Reddit.

5 Free Apps… http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-free-apps-improve-portable-reddit-experience-android/ – Article highlighting five different mobile Reddit browsing apps.

Metareddit. http://www.metareddit.com/reddits – A list of all of the subreddits.


About the Author

Mark Henley is a junior at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan with an emphasis in Accounting. He captains the B-team ultimate frisbee and also has an accounting job in Ann Arbor. When not at classes, work, ultimate, or hanging out with friends, he frequently goes on Reddit to pass the time and find entertainment. This upcoming summer he will work in Grand Rapids with a public accounting firm.




  1. http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3pdrbc/


To Google or not to Google? Copyright © 2013 by Mark Henley. All Rights Reserved.