At TNW2019, Reddit’s Chief Technical Officer, Chris Slowe, shared some behind-the-scenes insights into what makes the message board tick. Perhaps more importantly, he spoke of two important lessons learned from tackling the challenges Reddit faces as one of the world’s most popular websites.
Reddit is a giant, got a weird hobby? There’s probably a subreddit for it.
Over 300 million users visit Reddit every month, and as Slowe attests, “the tech isn’t easy.” Even so, it didn’t stop the message board from embarking on a redesign in attempts to provide redditors with more tools and an improved user experience
According to Slowe, Reddit “users love walls of text.” So how does a website help its user’s both create and consume massive walls of text?
Changing the user interface can have dramatic consequences for the way these communities interact and share content. As Slowe pointed out, any changes in design “have a huge impact and must be compatible with website traffic.”
If there’s anything that developers and designers should take away from Slowe’s talk though, it’s these two things: let users express their creativity, and be ready for users to break things and use them in ways you don’t expect.
Indeed, according to Slowe, the more freedom Reddit has given its users, the more successful it’s become.
When the message board was redesigning its user interface, it built from the ground up something called “styled structures.” These styled structures sit alongside the website’s cascading style sheets (CSS) to let communities customize their own subreddits, without breaking the whole site. It lets communities maintain control of their online identity and “feel at home.”
At the same time, when users break a website, it’s not always a bad thing. Listen to, and use their feedback. It might sound simple enough, but to echo Slowe’s closing remark, “communities are important.”