Reddit community moderators made a bold move earlier this month that caused quite a stir online. They took a stand against the platform’s decision to charge certain developers for access to its valuable data, which many found controversial.
The fallout was evident as users retreated and started to ignore the platform — popularly known as the “front page of the internet.” On June 12, moderators responsible for managing thousands of subreddits (communities on the platform) protested against Reddit’s decision to charge developers for accessing data through its API. They showed their opposition by making their communities private and restricted.
That ‘blackout’ movement, which briefly caused Reddit to go down, dropped daily traffic by about 7% and the amount of time people spent on the Reddit website by close to 16% between June 12–13, according to the data shared by web traffic analysis firm Similarweb. The criticism from some community moderators and users also resulted in a drop in daily visits to Reddit’s ad portal, which advertisers use to target their audience and drive promotional campaigns for Redditors.
The Israel-headquartered company told TechCrunch that the time spent on the Reddit website dropped to about 7.16 minutes on the first two days of the protest, down from an average of about 8.40 minutes for other days before that period. Web traffic of the platform also declined to about 52 million on June 13, compared with after averaging nearly 56 million in the days prior.
In April, Reddit announced its plans to start charging developers to access data through its API. The move was obvious — to restrict third parties from accessing Reddit data that can help build text-generating machine learning models such as OpenAI’s GPT 4. Developers building apps and bots to assist people using Reddit and researchers who wish to study the platform for noncommercial purchases were among the few exceptions. However, as a result, third-party apps including popular Reddit client Apollo found it difficult to pay for those charges and decided to go offline. Various popular subreddit moderators came in support of those apps and developers and started protesting against the API pricing move.
The negative impacts on Reddit’s daily traffic and average time spent have improved, according to more recent statistics, indicating that the initial downturn was temporary. Similarweb’s data shows that on June 23, the platform saw 8.37 minutes of average time spent on the platform and close to 55 million visits.
Nonetheless, between June 13–23, the average daily visits on Reddit’s ad portal (ads.reddit.com) decreased by about 20%, from 16,009 visits to 12,874 visits, during the period of June 13 to June 23, per Similarweb.
Similarweb senior insights manager David F. Carr told TechCrunch that the dip in the traffic of Reddit’s ad portal suggests advertisers were less willing to do business with the platform while the protests were underway.
Data shared by San Francisco-based market research firm Sensor Tower shows a similar trend. The average time spent on the official Reddit mobile app fell 17% day-over-day on June 12 as multiple subreddits went dark in reaction to the platform’s plan to charge for using its API. Similarly, session counts on the app dropped 7% on the first day of the protest started last week.
Between June 12–14, the average time spent and session counts were down 14% and 8%, respectively, against the prior week’s average (June 5–11) for both metrics. In these three days, many renowned subreddits on the platform were private.
While some subreddits decided to remain dark indefinitely, many started returning in the last few days. Sensor Tower’s data shows that the average time spent and session counts on the Reddit app from June 15–21 were still down 6% and 4%, respectively, compared to averages before the protest. However, the firm noted that the time spent and session counts grew 8% and 4%, respectively, in these seven days compared to averages for both metrics during the initial period between June 12–14.
“Despite a slight inflection in user engagement with the organized protest largely concluding on June 14, some popular subreddits still remain dark, which is likely weighing on a return for user time spent and sessions to pre-protest levels,” said Abe Yousef, a senior insights analyst for finance at Sensor Tower.
Alongside moderators protesting against Reddit’s move, Sensor Tower’s insights suggest some users also publicly voiced their dissent with the platform for charging for allowing access to its data. The data shared with TechCrunch shows that nearly 91% of Reddit’s U.S. iOS reviews carried a 1-star rating during the initial phase of the protest between June 12–14, compared to about 53% in the previous two months until May.
There has been some ratings improvement lately as the 1-star reviews of the Reddit U.S. iOS app dropped to about 86% between June 15–26, Sensor Tower’s data shows.
“Despite a slight easing up in 1-star reviews, the percentage of 1-star reviews out of total reviews in the post [the initial] protest period is still significantly higher compared to the average of 53% examined in the previous two months,” Yousef said.
The data shared by Sensor Tower also indicates the top three most mentioned terms in all of the Reddit U.S. iOS reviews included keywords “apollo”, “third party” and “3rd party,” suggesting users were bombing review ratings in light of the new API move.
Similarly, the firm observes that downloads of the Apollo app surged to about 9,000 downloads a day on average since May 31 compared to 3,000 downloads per day in the previous 60 days. This follows some reports suggesting the shutdown of the third-party Reddit app. The app, however, itself announced its closure on June 8.
Reddit’s average worldwide daily active users on its mobile app fell modestly by about 2% during the beginning of the protest between June 12–14 compared to the previous day. However, the firm said the average daily active users largely returned to pre-protest levels in the last few days.
Reddit did not respond to a request for comment on the third-party metrics.
Experts are unsure if the current protest will significantly impact Reddit or if it will just be another controversial moment in the platform’s history.
“In general, I think the impact [of the protest] will depend on how long the mutiny lasts and what the final result is,” James Angel, an associated professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, told TechCrunch.
The 18-year-old platform, which was founded in 2005, is looking to file an IPO. Although it was valued at $10 billion during its last funding round in August 2021, the company is currently encountering difficulties in remaining competitive within the market. At the same time, the emergence of GPT and other generative AI-powered models have started treating Reddit — and other social networks — as a data farm to nurture their offerings.