Reddit Goes Open Source

I chatted today with Steve Huffman, co-founder of social news site reddit, about his company’s decision to publish the code to its site.

What makes reddit’s move interesting isn’t its novelty. Since Facebook opened up its platform in May 2007, tech companies have been publishing their APIs left and right in hopes that third parties will develop interesting programs for them. What makes reddit’s move worth writing about is that reddit isn’t just a tech company. It’s a tech company owned by a big traditional media company, Condé Nast. Big traditional media companies aren’t generally known for taking such startup like risks with their code, particularly since publishing it increases their vulnerability to hacking. “It is kind of a double edged sword,” says Huffman.

Huffman says that the folks at Condé Nast were refreshingly open to the concept. “When we came in to Condé Nast a year and a half ago I mentioned it to them and they surprisingly weren’t repulsed by the idea,” says Huffman. “I was surprised at Condé Nast’s acquiescence to it.”

Huffman sees the move as helping to set his site apart from . With 4.5 million unique visitors a month, Reddit’s audience is just 20% as large as Digg’s own. Despite Digg’s size, however, certain members of its community are continually accused of having undue influence and “gaming” Digg by, among other things, encouraging other influential diggers to vote for their stories. Huffman believes that opening up will make the site transparent enough to avoid complaints that reddit can be gamed. Maybe. Digg’s audience has expanded so far beyond hard core techies that most visitors wouldn’t know what to do with Digg’s code if Kevin Rose did publish it. Reddit’s audience is still centered on developers, though, so it probably makes sense for reddit to give them access. With any luck, users could develop some cool applications capable of bringing more people to the site.