The media ownership structure that dare not speak its name? Or is it the writing on the wall that new media, too, are deciphering too slowly?
Readers sautéing themselves on a powdery white beach who missed the Reddit.com hullabaloo last week that led Ellen Pao, its chief executive, to resign can catch up below in excerpts from a New York Times opinion piece begging for an answer to the obvious question.
Why not turn Reddit into a cooperative?
This is not only the obvious solution screaming from the particular problems the authors describe. It is in line with the visions of a fast-expanding minority who grasp the dimensions and implications — for man, the social animal — of the profoundly anti-hierarchical internet revolution. On the Guardian site last Friday, in ‘The end of capitalism has begun’ — a blog post based on his just-published book, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future — Paul Mason, economics editor of Britain’s Channel 4 News, showed why some new species of cooperative looms large, and not so far away:
Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, … New forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts: a whole business subculture has emerged over the past 10 years, which the media has dubbed the “sharing economy”. … [F]ew have bothered to ask what this development means for capitalism itself. … On a packed business flight, when everyone’s peering at Excel or Powerpoint, the passenger cabin is best understood as an information factory. … But what is all this information worth? … A study for the SAS Institute in 2013 found that, in order to put a value on data, neither the cost of gathering it, nor the market value or the future income from it could be adequately calculated. Only through a form of accounting that included non-economic benefits, and risks, could companies actually explain to their shareholders what their data was really worth. Something is broken in the logic we use to value the most important thing in the modern world. … [W]e … cannot imagine the kind of human beings society will produce once economics is no longer central to life. But we can see their prefigurative forms in the lives of young people all over the world breaking down 20th-century barriers around sexuality, work, creativity and the self.
… And now here is the NYT lament by two lawyers, Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen — also serving as unpaid Reddit site moderators — that leapt to mind as we sped through the Mason extract:
We are moderators for the website reddit.com, a place where, on a typical day, millions of users read and share content in self-contained communities called “subreddits.” We volunteer our time to help manage the subsection called IAmA — a popular part of the site where thousands of interviews, known as “ask me anythings,” take place. It’s where Bill Gates has talked about the importance of vaccines, …
We work hard to maintain the forum for the roughly eight million readers who turn to it each month. But last week we purposely shut it down for 24 hours. We did this after the company abruptly terminated Victoria Taylor, a Reddit employee who worked extensively with us as well as with other moderator teams on facilitating A.M.A.s.
Our primary concern, and reason for taking the site down temporarily, is that Reddit’s management made critical changes to a very popular website without any apparent care for how those changes might affect their biggest resource: the community and the moderators that help tend the subreddits that constitute the site. Moderators commit their time to the site to foster engaging communities. Ms. Taylor’s sudden termination is just the most recent example of management’s making changes without thinking through what those changes might mean for the people who use the site on a daily basis.
The issue goes beyond Reddit. We are concerned with what a move like this means for for-profit companies that depend on the free labor of volunteers — and whether they truly understand what makes an online community vibrant.
According to company numbers, IAmA hosts more than 8.5 million subscribers and between 20 and 30 million page views per month on its own. We started using Reddit as students, one of us around 2007 and the other around 2010, and now we are both attorneys. Reddit is not our job, but we have spent thousands of hours as a team answering questions, facilitating A.M.A.s, writing policy and helping people ask questions of their heroes. We moderate from the train or bus, on breaks from work and in between classes. We check on the subreddit while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting at the D.M.V.
We donate our time and talents to Reddit, a for-profit company, because we truly like building cool things on the Internet for others to enjoy
The community on the whole has also spoken quite loudly: Pay attention to the user base. Users are not simply a screaming mob. They are actually asking for reasonable support, and as moderators, we are trying very hard to do what we can to make those changes happen.