Elon Musk's Twitter moves were 'reaffirming' says Reddit boss amid API changes

From 'we are not Elon' to 'Elon was right' in a matter of days

Comment Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has come out and said what legions of redditors feared – that a business plan to turn a profit by increasing the price of API access has been "reaffirmed" by a look at the Book of Musk.

Talking to NBC News late last week, he appeared to admit that Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter should be an example for Reddit to follow.

"Long story short, my takeaway from Twitter and Elon at Twitter is reaffirming that we can build a really good business in this space at our scale," he said.

"Now, they've taken the dramatic road, and I guess I can't sit here and say that we're not either, but I think there's a lot of opportunity here."

He also said that he often wondered why Twitter couldn't turn a profit under previous management despite 2021 revenue of $5.1 billion. "As a company smaller than theirs, sub-$1 billion in revenue, I used to look at Twitter and say, 'Well, why can't they break even at 4 or 5 billion in revenue? What about their business do we not understand?' Because I think we should be able to do that quite handsomely."

He added: "And then I think one of the non-obvious things that Elon showed is what I was hoping would be true, which is: You can run a company with that many users in the ads business and break even with a lot fewer people," observing that Twitter "had to do some pretty violent changes and violent surgery to get there."

When we asked Reddit about the interview, a spokesperson said: "Saying he took inspiration seems to be a bit of a stretch, as I don't recall him saying that."

It's something of an about-turn from the company's position on the API charge increases, at least according to the developer of Apollo, an iOS client for interacting with Reddit.

In a post on the website announcing that the project would shut down at the end of June because the charges would cost more than $20 million a year, Christian Selig claimed Reddit told him:

I think one thing that we have tried to be very, very, very intentional about is we are not Elon, we're not trying to be that, we're not trying to go down that same path. [...] We are trying to do is just use usage-based pricing, that will hopefully be very transparent to you, and very clear to you. Or we're not trying to go down the same path that you may have seen some of our other peers go down.

Reddit, which announced layoffs earlier this month, has set the price for API calls by third-party apps at $0.24 per 1,000, and while that may look small, it really stacks up at scale. Reddit claims it made the change to profit off AI outfits training large language models on the content it hosts, which is generated by users and partly moderated by volunteers.

Reddit has set its sights on an IPO, but finance Firm fidelity, which led the company's August 2021 funding round, has revised the value of its $28.2 million stake down to $16.6 million, meaning the self-proclaimed "front page of the internet" is feeling the need to actually start making money.

Moderators, who rely on these third-party apps to police their various walled-off communities on the website, this past week led a rebellion on the website by shutting off access to their subreddits or putting them in read-only mode. Huffman struck back in the same interview, comparing them to "landed gentry."

He said: "If you're a politician or a business owner, you are accountable to your constituents. So a politician needs to be elected, and a business owner can be fired by its shareholders. And I think, on Reddit, the analogy is closer to the landed gentry: the people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic."

Popular subreddits with tens of millions of members each say their blackout will be "indefinite" until Reddit considers their demands, but the CEO said Reddit wouldn't budge. Leaning on the "democracy" angle, he said the company would have to make sure "protests, now or in the future, are actually representative of their communities. And I think that may have been the case for many at the beginning of this week, but that's less and less the case as time goes on."

Answering a question on the subreddit r/ModSupport, a Reddit administrator said that company had a duty to keep popular communities running because of their large audiences, and that they wouldn't hesitate to bring in a changing of the guard if necessary.

"If a moderator team unanimously decides to stop moderating, we will invite new, active moderators to keep these spaces open and accessible to users. If there is no consensus, but at least one mod who wants to keep the community going, we will respect their decisions and remove those who no longer want to moderate from the mod team."

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Musk's haphazard approach to cutting costs and increasing revenue at Twitter, which also jacked up API access prices, raised eyebrows in Silicon Valley and left thousands of jobs – ones many believed to be critical to the operation of the social network – on the cutting room floor.

Not to mention the vastly inflated price Musk paid, Twitter became a poster child of how not to take over an internet juggernaut with observers unsure of whether the website could stay online.

Twitter, in case you haven't noticed, is very much online and there is nothing to say that Reddit won't simply end the protests on its platform under its own steam.

But with 3,625 multimillion-user subreddits still dark as of Monday, the Musk playbook could have caused irreparable damage to the website's reputation among its most ardent community members.

Meanwhile, the subreddits that have reopened have extended their protest to posting pictures of Brit American comedian John Oliver. The number 1 rule on r/pics, for example, is now: "All posts must be images of John Oliver looking sexy." ®

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