Ex-Reddit Engineer Ryan Charles Describes Reddit’s Now Shelved Decentralisation Plans

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Reddit is, undoubtedly, one unabridged source for all possible content and is rightly called the index of web. However, we have witnessed it struggling and dangling for a while now, majorly to manage which content to censor on the site as it tries to build a real business backed by venture capitalists, while not offending users who power reddit.

Reddit did announce its plans for building its own cryptocurrency last year and rightfully hired Ryan X. Charles, earlier an engineer at BitPay. However, it now seems that the company had something else in work at backstage.

Charles, through a blog post on Medium, said that although he was assigned the task of developing reddit’s cryptocurrency base, he had all of his focus on an altogether different task, i.e. decentralizing reddit.

Reddit’s servers are currently hosted by a central organization. Because humans have interests, and no two humans’ interests align perfectly, it is often the case that the interests of reddit watchdogs come into conflict with reddit users. This results into removal of users’ content, which may offend them to quite an extent, largely because it’s a matter of perspective and the content may actually be right.

Also, reddit has been focusing a little more on converting content into money so they can pay their bills and give a return to their investors, making it a monopoly over the platform, with users not geting paid for their labor.

Charles, with his idea of decentralizing reddit, approached CEO Yishan and soon after started working on the project. However, there is a problem with decentralization, which is how to incentivize the participants. In order to avoid the complications, Charles realized the need for making decentralized money, Cryptocurrency.

Charles explained how a decentralized reddit would work-

Each user has an app, the reddit app, which connects to the reddit p2p network. For most users, the app is a normal web app. Each user funds their own app with a small amount of bitcoin. In order to download content, the user pays a very, very small amount of bitcoin to the peers on the network. This incentivizes people to keep the app open so as to keep servicing the other users. Furthermore, when a user upvotes content, that sends a small amount of bitcoin to the author of that content, thus incentivizing the production of good content. If all the content is authenticated, we can be reasonably sure most payments are going to the right people.

However, Charles mentions that Reddit already had a decentralisation plan in place. Charles explains (emphasis my own),

I had an opportunity to talk to the then-CEO of reddit, Inc., Yishan, last summer, and told him I wanted to create a decentralized reddit. He was very excited about this idea— turns out they had a high-level plan of decentralizing reddit in the works, and they needed someone to execute this vision. Soon thereafter, I left my job at BitPay, the leading bitcoin payment processing company, to join reddit, Inc. My primary goal at reddit on Day 1 was to decentralize reddit.

However, project soon changed its course after reddit raised $50 million in a new round. Rather than decentralizing the service, Charles started towards making  all reddit users, owners of reddit. The concept was, if reddit grows, users get rewarded by having equity.

Soon after when Yishan resigned from his post, the crypto-equity project was shelved, decentralization was only in thoughts.  However, Charles is still in process to make a decentralized reddit and has collaborated with a lot of other people to produce some of the fundamental software necessary to make a decentralized reddit and also to build cryptocurrency for the platform.


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