“I spend a lot of time on Reddit, as you might imagine,” said Steve Huffman. That’s not so surprising, given that he is Reddit’s CEO.
Huffman co-founded the company with college roommate Alexis Ohanian in 2005, left a few years later to work on a travel startup, and then returned to Reddit in 2015, after five years away. The self-described “front page of the internet” is now one of the most popular sites in the US. Huffman’s return coincided with a tumultuous period, beset by infighting between employees and the volunteer moderators who effectively run the site.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing since; most notably, there have been hacks and an awkward, shifting approach to policing hate speech on the platform. Regardless, earlier this year, Reddit raised funds at a $3 billion valuation, up from $1.8 billion in Aug. 2017.
At this year’s Cannes Lions advertising conference, the CEO presented a buttoned-up face to the anarchic, freewheeling site in an interview with Snap CEO Evan Spiegel. (Sample question from Spiegel: “Tell us why everyone here should be buying your ads.”)
Although Huffman noted that he considered ads “icky” during the earliest days of Reddit, a recent redesign has made it easier for the site to make money from sponsors. In his pitch to advertisers at Cannes last month, Huffman highlighted the enthusiasm of Reddit’s many self-governing communities, known as subreddits. Reddit has sometimes struggled to maintain its open ethos when it comes to edgier groups dedicated to things like digital piracy or alt-right ideologies. As brand safety becomes more important for advertisers online, the CEO understandably stressed the site’s friendlier corners.
When asked about his personal favorite subreddits, Huffman, who goes by the username spez on the site, said they fall into three (advertiser-friendly) categories.
First, there are the “blue-chip communities” AskReddit (a place to “ask and answer thought-provoking questions”) and IAmA, (“ask me anything”), two of the largest and liveliest subreddits on the site.
Second, Huffman praised the Wholesome Network of subreddits, and especially Wholesome Memes. “It’s just people saying nice things to each other,” he said. “It’s really nice, when you’re otherwise inundated with angry politics…to just go to a place that’s peaceful.”
Third, Huffman said that “there’s this new hobby I have, which is spying on other people’s hobbies.” Lately, he’s been lurking on the Cross Stitch subreddit, but not because he’s into sewing:
I’m not into needlework myself, but there is something really endearing about watching people who are just getting into cross-stitching, sharing their shitty little things, and the pros showing their awesome stuff… the sharing of feedback. Again, there’s a lot of positivity there. It’s really interesting to learn about the ways other people are unique—their passions and interests. Reddit provides a window into that sort of thing.
Correction (July 1): A previous version of this post misstated the date of Reddit’s previous fundraising.