Reddit communities are going private to protest new fees from the website.

Why is Reddit going dark?

Janet Nguyen Jun 13, 2023
Reddit communities are going private to protest new fees from the website.

If you try to access Reddit, you’ll find that many of the platform’s communities have gone private. 

More than 8,000 subreddits — including popular ones such as r/gaming, r/funny, r/aww — are going dark to protest fees that Reddit is charging for third-party access to its API, or application programming interface. An API is software that essentially allows applications to talk with one another. 

Some third-party apps, like Apollo, use Reddit’s API to allow users access to the site through their own interface. With Apollo, an app designed for the iPhone, users can access Reddit, log in, and post like they normally do through the website. 

In a Reddit post, Apollo developer Christian Selig said you can think of Reddit as a bouncer. “Historically, you can ask Reddit ‘Could I have the comments for this post?’ or ‘Can you list the posts in AskReddit?’. Those would be one API request each, and Reddit would respond with the corresponding data,” he explained. 

But some say that Reddit’s new pricing model is financially untenable. API access had been free and will continue to be free under certain conditions, but those with higher usage requirements will have to pay up, according to Reddit. The rate for apps, effective July 1, will be 24 cents per 1,000 API calls.

Selig announced that Apollo is shutting down at the end of the month in response to these pricing changes. 

He said that the new API model would end up costing him more than $20 million a year. “That is not an exaggeration, that is just multiplying the 7 billion requests Apollo made last month by the price per request,” he explained in a Reddit post. 

In a Q&A post with Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, commenters expressed frustration with Reddit management and their treatment of third-party developers, which they say has been “unprofessional” and “hostile.” 

A Reddit spokesperson, in response to a Marketplace request for comment, stated: “Expansive access to data has impact and costs involved; we spend multi-millions of dollars on hosting fees and Reddit needs to be fairly paid to continue supporting high-usage third-party apps. Our pricing is based on usage levels that we measure to be comparable to our own costs.”

The spokesperson also said that “the vast majority of API users will not have to pay for access” and noted its API is free for moderator tools and bots, and will also be free of use  “within the published rate limits so long as apps are not monetized.” The New York Times also reported in April that researchers would still be able to use it for free. 

Reddit’s move comes at a time when artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT (developed by OpenAI), which learn from data that’s available online, have gained popularity. While third-party apps used Reddit’s API to help users access the website, some companies have been using Reddit conversations to develop language models, a form of AI that can comprehend human language and mimic how humans talk. 

The Times reported that Reddit’s posts have been used as “a free teaching aid” for companies like Google, Microsoft and OpenAI, which are using them to develop AI systems. 

In an interview with the Times, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman explained that “the Reddit corpus of data is really valuable.”

“But we don’t need to give all of that value to some of the largest companies in the world for free,” he continued. 

Zhi Li, assistant professor of practice in operations and information management at Babson College, said that Reddit is also planning to go public later this year, which means it could be facing pressure to diversify its revenue sources. 

Other platforms have already made the decision to tamp down on API access. Twitter recently blocked third parties from using its API, meaning the end of third-party apps like Tweetbot and Twitterific

Twitter does have subscription packages that allow developers API access, but they come with hefty fees. They can range between $42,000 and $210,000 a month, reported Wired. 

Even some who are willing to pay have been shut out. OpenAI had been licensing Twitter’s data for $2 million a year, but Twitter CEO Elon Musk decided to bar them from accessing it because he didn’t think the company was paying enough, reported the Times. 

Stack Overflow, a Q&A site for developers, also announced that it would charge AI developers for access to its posts. 

With the AI battle raging on, data could get much more expensive.

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