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We Are the Nerds

The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory

By Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
16-minute read
Audio available
We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

We Are the Nerds (2018) chronicles the turbulent rise of Reddit, one of the internet’s most popular and controversial websites. The product of careful research into the content aggregator’s history and in-depth interviews with leading staffers, Lagorio-Chafkin whisks us from its birth among beer bottles and pizza boxes to executive infighting and billions of clicks a month – with controversy-laden pit stops along the way.

  • Those curious about how Reddit started
  • Individuals interested in technology and culture
  • Anyone seeking an inside look into one of Silicon Valley’s most dramatic companies

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a senior writer for Inc.com and Inc. magazine. She covers business, entrepreneurship and innovative startups. We Are the Nerds is her first book.

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We Are the Nerds

The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory

By Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
Synopsis

We Are the Nerds (2018) chronicles the turbulent rise of Reddit, one of the internet’s most popular and controversial websites. The product of careful research into the content aggregator’s history and in-depth interviews with leading staffers, Lagorio-Chafkin whisks us from its birth among beer bottles and pizza boxes to executive infighting and billions of clicks a month – with controversy-laden pit stops along the way.

Key idea 1 of 10

Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman might have founded Reddit, but it wasn’t their idea.

Reddit’s story begins at the University of Virginia in 2001. Roommates Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman were pretty normal freshmen, albeit with a pronounced geeky streak. They ate pizza, drank beer, tinkered with their computers and played video games. Both were fascinated by the emerging startup scene, but they were still waiting for their killer idea.

In fact, it was only four years later that the seeds of what would become one of the internet’s most popular websites were planted. In 2005, the duo attended a talk by Paul Graham, a well-known computer programmer and entrepreneur, as well as the mind behind the business incubator Y Combinator. Graham was offering $6,000 to potential founders to develop their ideas over the summer.

That sounded like a pretty good deal to Ohanian and Huffman – after all, they needed to pay for pizza and beer! They pitched an idea for a company that would use mobile technology to order food from gas stations. Graham wasn’t exactly blown away, but he was impressed by the pair’s can-do attitude. He gave them $12,000 and tasked them with coming up with a way to aggregate the best of the web’s endless supply of content. By the end of that summer, Reddit was born. Graham retained a stake in the project and continued to advise Ohanian and Huffman.

Reddit didn’t come out of the blue – in fact, the concept itself was already fairly established. What was new, though, were the site’s features. Take upvotes and downvotes, for example. These let users give a virtual thumbs up – or down – to content posted to the site. That’s the system that puts frequently upvoted links, pictures and text posts on the Reddit homepage, where it’s guaranteed to be seen. It’s a neat way of effectively outsourcing editorial decisions and allowing users to define what matters to them and their communities.

Another novel feature was subreddits, separate pages where users could delve into niche topics and interests. Today, there are millions of these Reddits within Reddits for everything from political discussions, on the r/Politics subreddit, to mutual appreciation, like on r/EarthPorn – a page devoted to sharing stunning pictures of our planet.

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