In the rapidly evolving world of online communities, changes often lead to seismic shifts. Such is the case with Reddit, a giant in the sphere, whose controversial policy modifications caused a significant backlash and opened the door for new platforms. Enter Lemmy, a burgeoning forum-like application, now rising to prominence in the wake of Reddit’s contentious decisions. This blog delves into the journey of these two platforms, highlighting their highs, lows, and the ongoing transformation of digital interaction.
You might have heard of the recent changes Reddit made to its API. Previously freely accessible, there were changes made that resulted in it being, distinctly, not free. This was important because many third-party apps, such as Apollo, Sync, and RedditIsFun, relied on this API to function, and the reason this was such an issue was that the official app lacked many accessibility features that were essential for many.
Accessibility features such as changing the font, font magnification, and even simple things such as remapping the controls, all were features that simply did not exist in the official app but could be vital to ensure a good user experience.
It also meant that many moderation tools would be rendered useless by the change, something moderators of subreddits heavily relied on, due to official ones being lacklustre.
The Financial Implications of API Usage: The Story of Apollo
Christian, the developer of Apollo, one of the most downloaded and used third-party apps, reported that it would cost him around $20 million a year with the API usage prices. Since this wasn’t sustainable, even with donations, this meant that Apollo, and apps like it, were forced to shut down if they weren’t able to negotiate a deal with Reddit.
You might ask, why didn’t Christian try and arrange a deal for usage of the API? Well, he tried. But it quickly turned towards him being slandered by Reddit’s CEO, leading to more public outrage.
User Boycotts: The Ongoing Fallout from Reddit’s Decisions
A lot of people disagreed with the API changes, for many reasons, but one of the main ones being that Reddit had been making promises for years regarding improving moderation tools, and accessibility features, yet there was nothing to show for it. There was a lot of backlash surrounding this announcement, and it led to a platform-wide strike: some subreddits shut down for 48 hours, some only posted pictures of John Oliver, and some vowed never to open again.
None of these mattered in the end, when admins sent out emails en-masse to the affected subreddits, telling them they would be removing the moderation teams if they weren’t reopened.
Anyway, it was safe to say that Spez and Reddit were not in people’s good books. Whilst some people returned following the strikes, some continue to boycott it.
Introducing Lemmy: A Fresh Take on the Online Forum
Enter Lemmy, the new kid on the block. It is an open-source, delocalised, forum-like program that is similar in nature. Each server is self-hostable and can set its own rules and policies, and whilst it can take a bit to wrap your head around, it can help to scratch the itch that Reddit previously did.
It’s also federated, to which the best comparison is email. You can join one email server, e.g. Outlook, but interact with emails of a different one, e.g. Gmail. In Lemmy, you can make an account on one instance, and interact with people on different instances, as long as they are federated.
Primarily coded in Rust, and having several apps of its own now, as well as a web app, it may not be as popular as Reddit is, but it is slowly growing its user base. On the 17th of June, Lemmy reported that following the blackout, the number of monthly active users had increased by over twenty-five times, and since then, it has only continued to increase.
Some popular subreddits have now got their Lemmy counterparts- e.g. Programmer Humour (Reddit) and Programmer Humour (Lemmy), and ironically, Lemmy has its subreddit on Reddit too, though it is worth mentioning this was created long before the strikes.
And despite its relatively small size, in comparison to Reddit, it’s already been the victim of an XSS attack. An XSS, or cross-site scripting, is where a malicious party injects malicious scripts into a website that is otherwise trusted. In the case of Lemmy, it was taking advantage of a vulnerability regarding emojis and was redirecting users to some unspecified harmful content.
Despite that hiccup, which was admittedly rather quickly patched considering the size of the project. It has been interesting, watching Lemmy grow from what it was before the strikes, to what it is now, and whilst I can see opportunities for growth and improvement, it will be something to watch, to see whether it will ever sit on the same level as Reddit and others of its kind.
Caitlin is a student currently studying for a computer science degree at Dundee University, Scotland. In her spare time, she likes reading, writing, gaming, crafts and socialising.