Home Blockchain Reddit CEO explains why he’s still big on blockchain

Reddit CEO explains why he’s still big on blockchain

Reddit CEO explains why he’s still big on blockchain

Crypto critics had a very good year. Much of what they predicted came true: that large-scale schemes would be exposed as Ponzi schemes; this security breaches would lead to mass thefts; and that average people would end up with the bag. Bitcoin, which traded around $67,000 in November, is at $21,570 today; many other cryptocurrencies are much worse.

As I noted here last month, however, on social media it can feel like the crypto crash never really happened. Over the past few months, Facebook and instagram added ways for users to present non-fungible tokens, and Spotify allows artists to use NFTs as profile pictures.

The origin of this piece was the news that Redditthe venerable social news aggregator and discussion site, had released its first “blockchain-backed collection avatars” – what other companies call NFTs. Created by a handful of artists, avatars riff on Reddit “snooo” alien mascot and can be used as a profile picture on the site.

In the video game industry, selling NFTs often caused a stir among gamers angry at what they perceive to be pure greed. But while Reddit takes a 5% cut in NFT sales, its announcement has come and gone without much fanfare.

This month, the company took it a step further: starting August 17, it began offering free collectible avatars to 10 million users. About 50,000 have been given away so far to longtime Redditors who have made popular contributions to their communities; the rest will be distributed over the next few weeks. The only problem is that users have to set up a crypto wallet to receive it – the first step, Reddit hopes, in encouraging millions of users to start exploring the concept of “portable identity”.

Some people hear phrases like that and their eyes roll back so far in their head that they may never recover. But a significant number of tech platform executives large and small continue to believe that somewhere in all of this lies a solution to many of the criticisms we have of our current online lives: that a small number of companies have too much power; that our data is locked and inaccessible to us; that platforms ask us to share more of ourselves than we are comfortable with.

Steve Huffman is one such executive. Co-founder of Reddit and CEO since 2015, Huffman says he’s been fascinated by blockchain technologies since the early days of Bitcoin, when he marveled that some people were willing to pay as much as seven cents to one.

Avatars were a natural starting point for Reddit’s blockchain explorations, he said, because people use the feature differently on Reddit than they do on iMessage or Snapchat. There, avatars usually represent users with some precision, like cartoon versions of themselves. Reddit avatars, on the other hand, are aliens, meant to highlight aspects of a user’s personality without revealing their true identity.

Launched about a year and a half ago, about a third of logged in Reddit users have created avatars so far, he said.

“You can reveal your hobby without revealing your race. You can reveal some of your style without revealing your age or gender,” Huffman told me at the company’s offices in San Francisco’s Mid-Market district. “This idea of ​​capturing some of your own identity there, on your own terms, is a very Reddit thing to do. I wish we had done this 10 years ago because it really fits Reddit.

Several variations of the Snoo the Reddit mascot in different themes and outfits.

Collectible avatars created by artists from Reddit.
Image: Reddit

Letting artists sell avatars on the platform was tied to a separate goal of helping Redditors make money from other users, Huffman said. But he also wants to move away from a world where digital assets are controlled by the platform that creates them.

“What crypto adds is the ability to own digital objects,” he said. “Before that, you could create digital assets, like in a game. But these assets ultimately exist at the whim of the company that creates them or manages the database. And so it’s not actual ownership – I’d like to get closer to actual ownership.

Already, he notes, a user can choose to display their digital Reddit avatar as part of a collection on Instagram, or use it as a profile picture on Twitter. The companies haven’t signed a partnership agreement to make this happen – it just works because blockchains run on an open standard.

“We don’t work with any of these companies,” Huffman said. “I can’t say that we are the best of friends. But now we have this third-party database – an interoperability layer. I think that’s really cool.

Of course, that’s not to say that many people will be rushing to bring their Snoos to Twitter. But it hints at what might be possible in the future, Huffman said. People can start by bringing a profile picture with them on the Internet; later, other identity elements could also become portable. Reddit users reward each other with “karma” points for sharing high-quality links or making good comments; what if you could connect to other websites with your Reddit karma?

The company took a step in that direction in 2020, when it announced an ongoing experiment called “community points.” Based on Reddit’s existing karma model, Community Points allow subreddits to award users with tokens that exist on the Ethereum blockchain. The company offered a variety of uses for these tokens, including surveys that give more weight to active community participants, prizes for contests, and giving reputable users access to additional features in other apps and websites.

The company avatar bet, in a way, is even bigger: an effort to get 10 million people to start actively using crypto wallets – never calling them crypto wallets or (hopefully) le) use words related to cryptography.

“We really try not to use crypto words — it confuses people,” Huffman said. “The ecosystem is so confusing. I I can’t understand half of this stuff.

Huffman offered a metaphor to make his point.

“One of my frustrations with the crypto community is like, you know how everything in open source is just a little bit worse? But they’re like, ‘this is surprising! Check out this Microsoft Word replacement, it’s just as good! No it is not. Crypto is like that, again.

Like all crypto builders, Huffman’s challenge is to abstract all those confusing terms and murky user experiences, and replace them with something approachable and valuable. Few companies, if any, have reached this bar to date, despite years of testing and billions of dollars invested.

Reddit also needs to conduct its explorations without triggering the kind of backlash that video game companies experienced when they announced blockchain projects. Huffman told me he was confident the company could do it — and said the recent crash made it easier to focus on building utilities.

“I was anti-profiteering, anti-bubble,” he said. “All this crypto stuff that I found extremely nasty and counterproductive for years, that’s why we don’t talk about it. Because I didn’t want to get sucked into the hype, which I think is parasitic and Our business model is never, let’s sell NFTs to cryptocurrencies to make a lot of money, our goal is to put the identity and reputation in a third party database.

The next steps, then, are to get people to use wallets and, from there, see what other parts of Reddit could be transferred from the platform to users and their communities.

I enjoyed talking to Huffman, who brings the right kind of skepticism to a technology that has been poisoned by wide-eyed optimists and outright scammers. At the moment, it might feel like the tech world is pouring most of its energy into a set of Legos that no one has figured out how to put together – using building blocks like identity, ownership and decentralization to create…something and hope the end product is worth all the effort.

“The backlash usually comes from profit — we don’t do that clearly and intentionally,” Huffman told me. “The product may or may not work. But its success will not come at the expense of our users.


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