Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Webcomics and Reddit

I spend more time on reddit than I probably should. For an Internet addict like myself, there's really no better resource for ephemera and offbeat articles -- and I cringe to think how much time I've wasted perusing the Ask Reddit and Ask Me Anything sections.

Smaller websites tend to find more success on reddit than the somewhat more famous Digg, so it's not surprising that a handful of webcomickers regularly submit their comics to reddit in hopes of finding a wider audience. Comics like Oglaf (NSFW) and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal can now expect a steady stream of traffic from reddit every time they post a new comic.

But dealing with reddit's active community can be frustrating. Reddit has a lot of great qualities, but many of its more vocal community members are shockingly misogynistic (and no more so than when someone points this out), politically rigid (Ron Paul being the favorite in the last presidential election), cynical to a fault, and will proudly announce that they "don't get" the appeal of something, as if it's the creator's fault for not tailoring it to their interests. The Comics and Webcomics subreddits tend to see the same comics float to the top over and over again.

And woe be to the creator who crosses the reddit community. Last week, there was a bit of a tempest in the comics subreddit's teapot when an anonymous poster revealed that members of Webcomics.com (a subscription-only website for webcomics creators) had a reddit upvote thread where members would upvote each other on reddit. Technically, this is a violation of "reddiquette," the rules redditors are asked to follow.

Okay, so first of all, I'm not a member of Webcomics.com, but it's kind of a dick move to post screencaps of a private website on a public one, especially over something so small. The anonymous poster could have just as easily sent the screencaps to the subreddit's moderators and let them deal with it. The poster apparently felt some personal ire toward Scott Kurtz, and the post seemed more about embarrassing Webcomics.com than fixing a problem in the reddit community.

As I've mentioned before, I used to run a social voting website, and I've found that violations like these are usually pretty innocent. People get super excited about promoting their content and sometimes they go a bit overboard. I'd guess that most -- if not all -- of the webcomickers in this thread had no idea that they were violating reddit's terms. After all, Digg has long legitimized so-called voting cliques with its "shout" feature. Plus, I'm not sure how much effect these voting cliques really have; reddit is a pretty sophisticated system, and I suspect that a bunch of voters coming from the same page would be canceled out.

Still, many (vocal) redditors were outraged by the revelation. How dare these webcomickers not realize that reddit is the most important site on the Internet? How could they not know the terms and conditions chapter and verse? What makes them think they can use reddit as a self-promotion and not engage with the community? Because really, who wouldn't want to engage with these lovely commenters?

Alright, kids. Lesson learned: just say no to voting cliques. But how do you get yourself some of that sweet reddit traffic? The short answer is that not everyone will. Some comics simply aren't built for reddit; it's yet another spot where long-form epic comics are at a disadvantage. Gag comics do better, although it seems to help if they're geeky, surreal, ribald, cynical, or somehow point out the irrationality of women. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule; I wouldn't have discovered Luke Pearson's gorgeous short comics if not for reddit. But it's telling that some folks go so far as to make comics specifically for reddit. Matthew Inman  of The Oatmeal has basically built a business (and from what I gather, a rather successful one) around writing comics aimed at the Digg/reddit crowd. And then there's this post, which hits on the magic formula: boobies + talking about reddit = the upvotes.

Just because redditors have very specific tastes doesn't mean webcomickers shouldn't try to market to them. After all, redditors are missing out on some great content. I was encouraged to see someone submit a stand-alone single-pager from Octopus Pie, and even more encouraged to see it receive some nice attention. Sometimes, getting attention from reddit (and other similar sites) may be a matter of choosing the right page or coming up with a catchy title. And yes, it may also mean participating in the community, dropping comments in the "What webcomics should I read?" threads or just saying, "Hey, here's a comic I enjoy."

Whenever I come to the end of one of these rambles, I tend to come to the same conclusion: that's it's we readers, not just creators, who need to step up when it comes to marketing their favorite webcomics. Great content is great, but it doesn't always stand on its own. Sometimes it needs a little boost, and those of us who use social media sites like reddit should pipe up and talk about the comics we love.

Ugh, I guess I've talked myself into engage more with the reddit community. Thanks, brain.


root said...

The reddit threads on webcomics.com were a little bit more complicated than that. When the idea was originally conceived, yes, there was quite a bit of discussion, and everyone involved knew that it was in violation of Reddit's AUP and that there was a looming risk of being caught and facing consequences. However, that conversation was had months ago, and new subscribers didn't get the full briefing, and just saw these reddit parties showing up every week and invited themselves along without understanding what the whole situation was.

It's also worth pointing out that the majority of webcomics.com subscribers didn't bother with the reddit upvote thread, either because they felt kind of skeevy about trying to game the system, or because they felt like their work would get upvoted on its own without any artificial vote inflation, or because they were too lazy to go through and upvote everyone else's comics and felt bad about freeloading on the people who did, or some combination of those factors.

Rich Barrett said...

Like you mentioned, long form webcomic creators probably shouldn't worry too much about getting their comics upvoted on Reddit. On a couple of occasions I would notice that I was suddenly receiving an uptick in visitors in the area of a couple hundred from Reddit in just the span of an afternoon. But not one of those people clicked through to a second page. I guess because Reddit users are looking only for something to laugh at or they're just used to clicking to a one-page strip, reading it and then returning.

I guess someone needs to start a Reddit for people with longer attention spans.

Lauren Davis said...

@root: Thanks, I wasn't aware of that.

@Rich Barrett: I like to call that "pogo sticking." People jump to a link, then immediately jump back to reddit. That's why I tend to prefer the "What should I read?" threads.

It's true; right now, long form threads have to market themselves to tastemakers rather than appealing to the -- ahem -- wisdom of the crowds. I keep turning over whether there are better ways for long form comics to employ social media sites.

Nick Wright said...

The Reddit thread was honestly pretty innocent. I'm a Webcomics.com member, but Treading Ground is more plot-based than Redditors are generally interested in, so Reddit has never helped me much. Still, I think it's interesting that they took so much offense at the fact that a handful of people might have, *GASP*, tried to help each other out.

I expect some level of vitriol on Reddit. What I found more disappointing was Jeph Jacques' tweet about it.

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