In January this year, Twitter shut down their API without warning, rendering third-party clients inoperable. I was one of those affected, but in many ways it felt more like a relief than an inconvenience to me. During the last two months of 2022 I had been bracing for my exit anyway, so in many ways it just helped to make that easier.
In some senses I can see the business case for this. Users of third party clients, who access data via the API, do not see adverts. Therefore Twitter was not directly making money from those users, and in principle removing those users would have no cost. However, in mainstream social media, having as many users as possible is the name of the game. Culling your userbase based on how profitable they individually are will eventually lead to a social media platform with just one user left.
Yesterday I discovered that reddit are planning to introduce a new pricing system for their API on the 1st July 2023. Fine, you might think, they’re entitled to do that. But the numbers are exorbitant. No third-party client could possibly hope to survive while paying the stated fees. It seems like reddit are trying to do exactly what Twitter did in January – ensure that the only way that users can access the service is via their official app, where they will see the adverts. And, unlike with Twitter, I’m seeing that I might be a bit more affected by this.
For the last 15 years reddit has brought a lot into my life. From way back in the day, when I first joined it as a sort of post-Slashdot tech site, I’ve gradually found more and more uses for it. Cute cat videos, of course. Discovering new video games (hey, have you heard about this game made by one guy in Sweden? It’s called Minecraft). Becoming a better computer programmer. Getting recommendations for music, films, TV shows. Joining communities of people who share my interests, and then having to leave because I find myself accumulating huge stockpiles of shaving soap. And, of course, general news. I’ve also been a moderator of a subreddit which has grown to over 230,000 members and I’m pleased to say that it’s remained one of the most positive and supportive communities on the internet.
So what’s the problem, you ask? If I love the place so much, why not do what I have to do to stay? Just suck it up and use the official app, Pete. Well, one problem is, I’ve heard that the official app is an utter dumpster fire in terms of usability. But the bigger problem is the forced adverts. And I’m conflicted here, because I’m conscious of the fact that the business model for most large websites these days is “we let you use our service for free, and in return we harvest your data and show you targeted adverts” but this doesn’t feel like a fair exchange to me. I consider my attention to be valuable, and don’t see why I should have to give it up so easily.
I’ll survive fine without reddit. I was fine before it came along, and while it was enjoyable to travel with it for a while, I think it has changed and we’ve grown apart. I’m sure that somewhere out there there is, or will soon be, a website that captures the magic of how reddit used to be in 2008. Or maybe not – maybe I’m about to spend a whole lot less time on my phone.