I’m participating in J-Prof Summer School and am blogging about each week in the curriculum. Read about it for some background. There also is a companion Facebook group for those participating.

reddit-300x300I came into this week fairly familiar with the concept of Reddit, so most of the how-to material was review for me. I’ve been a classic lurker on the site, basically looking at the front page and clicking on links. I have found it is an interesting type of news front page, reader-curated rather than something subject to journalistic gatekeeping.

This week I decided to take the assignment to look at Reddit every day and twist it a bit. Rather than merely look, I committed to commenting or posting something at least once a day. I have yet to post anything, but I’ve left anywhere from 4-7 comments on various threads every day. In addition, I did something I’ve neglected to do in the past – subscribe to subreddits on topics that interest me.

I have found that even in a week my Reddit experience changed dramatically for the better and I am loving it. I still looked at the front page, but I found myself checking my 10 subreddts (wide-ranging interests from r/sfgiants to r/startrek) a few times a day. From zero to that, that’s almost like an obsession given that it was only a week’s time.

Having learned more about the rating system, I found myself subtly chasing karma points too. Once I realized the value of having my comments voted up, I obsessed over saying things that were interesting and checking back to see how many upvotes I got. I got the same subtle satisfaction I get from being retweeted, so I could see some parallels between posting interesting comments and posting on Twitter. From a motivation standpoint, I’d theorize it’s basically the same.

A few observations on Reddit …

  • I struggled posting links and starting discussions. In fact I never found something interesting enough to post – and I really was wanting it to be interesting. In spending a week on the subreddits I found a knowledgeable community and felt almost like I had a responsibility to post things that others would enjoy, not just post for the sake of posting. The good news is I think that’s a good way of approaching it. Most of the subreddits I was on only had 5-10 posts per day, so the real transaction on Reddit is in the comments, not the posts. The reason this community works is because people post with restraint and post because of what they think the community would be interested in. That means you really need to spend time on subreddits and get a feel for the culture if you want to be useful. This, incidentally, is something that takes time and will take a lot of prodding in a classroom.
  • I would compare commenting on Reddit to posting on Twitter (straight tweets, not replies or retweets). Post things that are unique and interesting, and your metric for success is the upvote much as the metric for success on Twitter is retweets. The difference is that your non-reply posts are the real social currency on Twitter, whereas on Reddit your contribution to the community is where all the value is.
  • My students have struggled in the past on their blogs for two reasons: it’s hard to generate post ideas, and then connecting it to the larger discussion around their blog topic. In the past I’ve used Twitter and hashtags to open that up. Reddit is a revelation. Scanning subreddits gives you an idea of what people are talking about, and that is blog post gold. Subreddits also give you a platform for distributing your work (without overdoing it) and maybe finding a network of other bloggers who write about the same subject. I am positive that Reddit will become part of my students’ blogging process from here on out.
  • The community is rich. These folks on subreddits are true believers and at times deeply knowledgeable about the topic. I can see how it can be seductive for journalists to trust the community expertise without verifying the information shared in breaking news situations, something that came up in our readings this week about the Boston bombing. The more time I spent on Reddit, the more I could see how my skepticism could melt away. Still, the community is good about asking about links for proof on breaking news. But in teaching Reddit in classes, we need to focus on how to use it as a starting point for research and verification.

On GitHub, I have spent some time with it but don’t feel like I have enough handle on it to know exactly where I’m going with it. I love the versioning and forking possibilities that could make collaboration on group assignments more useful. I suspect if I taught coding I would find a lot of use from GitHub. I can see a lot of use possibilities, but nothing specifically for what I do.

I do have a crazy idea to try and collaborate on a research paper on GitHub. It doesn’t fall in the areas of traditional use, but I think it’d be interesting to experiment there and I’d learn a lot about GitHub itself too.

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J-Prof Summer School Week 1: Reddit and GitHub
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