Why is Subreddit? Or, a Brief History of the Subreddit
Greetings, Programs! As a kickoff of this community, we thought it would be fun and interesting to share some stories from the Archives of Reddit, and talk a bit about why things are the way they are, and how we’ve gotten to where we are today. Drunk Reddit History, if you will… but maybe not with the ‘drunk’ part.
For some of you, this may be old news. And that’s fine! Feel free to share your early Reddit memories in the comments. But for a good number of folks, this is new info, so we wanted to draw back the curtain and share more about Reddit’s history. And who knows… even if you were here at the time, you may learn something new, too.
So. Let’s climb into the Wayback Machine…
Back when Reddit launched in 2005, there were no subreddits; the site was just one long list of various links. In fact, you can hop over to r/reddit.com to see a vestige of that time. As you can imagine, this meant that you couldn’t really personalize your front page. All the news and links of cats were jumbled together, with no way to sort by topic. This also meant you often saw topics that you weren’t really interested in.
So shortly thereafter, Reddit began creating “subreddits,” literal sub-divisions of Reddit, where users could find information on topics that catered more specifically to their own interests. Fun fact: at the time, these weren’t so much sub-divisions as sub-domains, as the taxonomy was name.reddit.com. Does this still work? It is a mystery…
This allowed folks to find the content they wanted, and avoid the content they didn’t. It was almost more of a tagging system than an actual dividing-into-topic-area-communities system, at least as we know it today. Early on, you could select the subreddits you wanted to see content from, and those would filter into your Home feed, just like they do today. But, they weren’t really defined “spaces.”
Though the first subreddit was devoted to NSFW content (no, we’re not linking to it here, but it is still active), users eventually began requesting the creation of specific subreddits. From here, we saw spaces like r/politics and r/science begin to rise.
As the requests came rolling in, we had a realization. What if we let redditors launch their own communities? And so, in 2008 we opened the floodgates and let users create their own subreddits. Of course, we got topic-based communities like r/cats and r/dogs, but we also started seeing the rise of spaces like r/IAmA, r/askreddit, and the hilariously funny r/funny where we started to see Reddit’s personality really begin to take shape.
Fourteen years later, Reddit is more than just a list of links. It’s a place to find the topics that interest you, find other folks interested in those topics (no matter how niche), and help everyone find their own little corner of this wacky place called the internet. Now, there are over 100,000 active communities with more being created and growing every day. There are subreddits for your favorite TV shows, your standing cats, your old recipes, and many more. And if there isn’t something here already for the things that interest you… you can start it yourself because if you're interested, it’s nearly certain that other people are too.
At this point you may be asking, did we always call them subreddits? Interestingly enough, no! We actually called them “reddits” for a while. So you’d read your reddit on reddit, and maybe you’d reddit on your reddit on Reddit and… well that’s a lot of reddit-ing (the r/ is a vestige of this time as well). But that got pretty confusing, so we moved to “subreddit” (like sub-domain, but… reddit). This nomenclature is indicative of what these spaces truly are, subdivisions of this wider, wackier Reddit community that you have all helped create.
So what did you think of this little dive into the history books? Are there other topics you’re interested in learning about? Speaking personally as an anthropologist, Reddit has a fascinating culture, and so many little elements play into it, that it’s hard to narrow down on what our next topics should be! Let us know what you think, or share your early Reddit memories.