Reddit Meetup: Can users turn online connections into real ones?
What do President Obama, Morgan Freeman, NSA document-leaker Edward Snowden and some guy who goes by the name “probably hitting on you” have in common?
They all know what time “the narwhal bacons.”
Specifically, they know “the narwhal bacons at midnight,” because they are all part of one of the Internet’s worst-kept secret societies. They are all Redditors, like me.
My fondness for the user-generated content website grew out of a love of Internet memes and, frankly, wasting time.
For the uninitiated, Reddit is a link-sharing website. The premise is simple: Reddit allows its disparate global user base to decide what is popular on the Web by a public vote. Any member can decide if a link is worthy of an “upvote” or a “downvote.”
“I think it’s so minimal but also at the same time so rich. You can have all types of communities from serious to absurd in the same area,” Erik Martin, Reddit’s general manager, told me about what makes the Reddit online community so special.
And it was the serious and absurd that drew me to the website, as a user and as a writer.
Reddit has allowed me to both waste time (epic amounts) mindlessly thumbing through links to silly stories, and it has also allowed me to source information on breaking news events happening around the world.
“Steve and I, we had just graduated from college. We just wanted to create something that worked,” Reddit’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian told me of starting his first company with Steve Huffman.
He added, “In the back of my head, I am sure I thought this would be this incredible platform for people all around the world to share ideas, but you know, at the time our ambitions were frankly a lot more modest.”
The website allows users to register a username anonymously with any screen name they choose. There’s no verification process and no way to track a person’s Reddit persona to their real identity. To help identify another user in a public place, Reddit users created the code phrase, “the narwhal bacons at midnight.”
Saturday, however, marks a special day in the Reddit community. It is the day where users around the world are invited to freely come out from behind their computer screens to meet in real life.
In 160 locations around the world, including right here in Los Angeles, users will be celebrating Global Reddit Meetup Day with parties, games and events.
But why would anyone want to ruin something so perfect, something so anonymous? Why would you want to ruin what we have, Reddit?
“It’s really a testament to the Internet and its ability to help people, you know whether it’s people all over the world connecting with each other, or whether it’s people in a smaller geographical location connecting with each other,” Ohanian said in his optimistic tone of why users would want to take part in Meetup Day.
Perhaps Ohanian’s response is a more accurate reflection of why Reddit users like Edward Snowden would go public with their persona.
Snowden, the National Security Agency document-leaker, told the Guardian that he was inspired, at least in part, by one of Reddit’s more obscure sub-communities known as r/restorethefourth.
“I have been surprised and pleased to see the public has reacted so strongly in defense of these rights that are being suppressed in the name of security,” Snowden said. He added, “It is not like Occupy Wall Street but there is a grassroots movement to take to the streets on July 4 in defense of the Fourth Amendment called Restore the Fourth Amendment and it grew out of Reddit. The response over the Internet has been huge and supportive.”
But what about the general user, like me, who oftentimes uses Reddit to post snarky comments from the comfort of my anonymous seat, and not to release classified government documents?
“It’s a chance to meet people outside your normal circles, but also share some commonality,” Martin said, more accurately reflecting what I believe to be the reasoning behind Meetup Day.
And while I will not be taking part in Meetup Day this year, I was inspired to reveal myself to my Reddit family after chatting with Martin about Reddit’s effect on journalism.
“People have these expectations of transparency,” Martin said. “They don’t want to only take the reporter’s word for it. They want to be able to ask questions. You have a generation who wants to participate. It goes beyond sharing. You’re expected to have an opinion on everything.”
So in the spirit of transparency, and for the sake of not just taking my word for it, I posted five questions to Reddit’s r/losangeles page to gauge what the Reddit community here in L.A. feels about Meetup Day and Reddit in general. Here are some of the questions. For answers, see my Reddit post.
- How you came to Reddit
- Weirdest thing you’ve seen on Reddit?
- Which is more true and why: journalists are influencing Redditors or Redditors are influencing journalists?
- Do you think that Edward Snowden’s reported use of Reddit will change how people perceive the Reddit community?
- Why do you want to take your online relationships with Redditors offline and into real life with a global meetup?
- BONUS: Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?