Reddit’s r/place is one of the most oddly inspiring events on the internet, as diverse communities from across the platform come together to paint together on the same massive digital canvas. But amid ongoing controversy over Reddit’s changing API prices, which put many indie developers out of business, this year’s r/place serves as an opportunity for Reddit users to continue their ongoing rebellion.
The origin of r/place dates back to 2017, when then-Reddit engineer Josh Wardle created it as an April Fools’ Day event (yep, that’s the same guy who made Wordle!). On a canvas of one million pixels, any registered Redditor can place one single colored pixel every five minutes. So, individual subreddits will work together to make their mark on the massive, collaborative art piece — in the past, we’ve seen giant Brazil flags, pixel-perfect recreations of the Mona Lisa, innumerable rainbows, and Pizza Johns that stare into your soul. The project came back for a second time in 2022, attracting almost 11 million users, so Reddit decided to bring r/place back again this year. The event was scheduled for June 23, but it was delayed, since at the time, numerous subreddits had shut down to retaliate against API changes.
“So what they are saying is that they have fucked up so bad that they are going to try to distract us with r/place,” one Redditor commented on the announcement.
Following Twitter’s (also controversial) lead, Reddit announced in early June that it would start charging developers for access to its API, which limits the community’s ability to create plug-ins and features that make Reddit more accessible and enjoyable. Christian Selig, developer of the popular iOS client Apollo, said that it would now cost him $20 million per year to keep his app online, so at the end of June, he shut it down for good. Other apps like Sync for Reddit, BaconReader and Boost for Reddit have shut down too, while the developers for Relay, Now for Reddit and Narwhal decided to start charging subscriptions. Not everything on the internet can be free, but these resources have been such a core part of Reddit for so long that these changes can feel like a slap in the face.
Instead of listening to the community, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman — known as u/spez on the site — doubled-down in defense of the API changes. Redditors see him as a representation of how Reddit has changed for the worse, so now, r/place is covered with messages that say “fuck spez.” At the time of publication, there are around 50 different variations of “fuck spez” on r/place (… and within another fifteen minutes or so, a few of those messages were covered up with a rainbow “DICKS”). A German community got particularly creative, writing “u/spez ist ein hurendsohn,” which roughly translates to “u/spez is a son of a bitch.” Ouch.
The canvas changes quickly, and it will likely be unrecognizable by the end of the project. But so far, r/place is sending a clear, unified message that the user base of Reddit isn’t happy with Huffman’s leadership. Even within these protesting groups, there are divisions — some people want to paint the whole canvas black, and have begun their efforts in what they are calling “the black hole.” Others are on the “fuck spez” train. And some people think that simply engaging in r/place is giving the Reddit executives what they want, which is more and more clicks on their site.
It’s not likely that any amount of “fuck spez”-es will change Huffman’s mind about Reddit’s API pricing. But at the very least, these efforts show that users aren’t willing to back down just yet.