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Participatory Culture, Community, and Play

Learning from Reddit


Adrienne L. Massanari

What does online community look like in the age of social networking? How do participatory culture platforms reflect both their designers’ intentions and the desires of their users? In this incisive and timely work, Adrienne L. Massanari discusses how culture is created and challenged on, the self-proclaimed «front page of the internet». Reddit enables the sharing of original and reposted content from around the web, and provides a platform for like-minded individuals to commune around topics of interest – everything from the joys of drinking beer in a shower (/r/showerbeer) to celebrating the pleasures of tidy penmanship (/r/penmanshipporn). Massanari’s ethnographic work provides a detailed examination of the contradictions that shape Reddit’s culture and how they reflect its role as an epicenter of geek culture. The book explores the ways in which community on Reddit is formed and solidified through play and humor, and the complex ways in which Redditors come together, which demonstrate a deep capacity for altruism and charitable giving, but can easily lapse into mob action. It also explores the community’s troubling gender and racial politics and how some Redditors are carving out their own space on the site to fight back.
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Chapter 2. Defining reddit


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When asked what I was working on during this book project, I would simply say, “Oh, it’s a book about this online space, reddit.” Inevitably, the person I was talking to would respond in one of two ways: nod knowingly and then launch into her own story about her experience with the site, or, much more likely, ask innocently, “What’s reddit?” I would then reply with one of my stock answers, “It’s a social news-sharing site,” or “It’s a link aggregator,” or “It’s an online community.” If the person still seemed interested, I would clarify further: “Well, it’s not just a social news-sharing site, it’s also a community. Anyone can create what’s called a subreddit and share links of interest. Like Swedish death metal? There’s a subreddit for that (/r/melodicdeathmetal) and people who want to talk about it. Interested in calligraphy? There’s a subreddit for that, too (/r/Calligraphy). Do you drink beer in the shower? Awesome—there’s also a subreddit for that (/r/showerbeer). But the really interesting stuff happens in the discussions around those links. It’s kind of like a community, message board, carnival, and play space rolled into one. Oh, and yeah—you should know there’s some really disturbing stuff too. It’s kind of like the best and worst parts of the internet and humanity rolled up into one space.” And, we would go from there—with me relying on all kinds of metaphors to try to describe elements...

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