What is Reddit? A beginner’s guide to the front page of the internet

If you spend a lot of time online, chances are you’ve heard of Reddit. The site bills itself as the “front page of the internet,” and that’s not an empty boast: As of this writing, Reddit is the fifth most popular site in the United States, according to Alexa, and the 18th worldwide. So what exactly is Reddit? Essentially, it’s a massive collection of forums, where people can share news and content or comment on other people’s posts. Here’s everything you need to know.

Jacob O’Gara also contributed to this post.

The jargon and design of Reddit

Reddit is broken up into over a million communities known as “subreddits,” each covering a different topic. The name of a subreddit begins with /r/, which is part of the URLs that Reddit uses. /r/nba, for example, is a subreddit where people talk about the National Basketball Association, while /r/boardgames is a subreddit for people to discuss board games. Those are straightforward subreddits, but they can get weird, such as /r/birdswitharms, a subreddit devoted to pictures of birds…with arms. Or /r/ooer, a subreddit which we find inexplicable (and a bit painful to look at).

If you’re just looking at Reddit for the first time, you may be a bit confused by what you are seeing, so here’s a quick rundown. The homepage (or “front page”) shows you various posts that are currently trending on the site, pulled from a variety of subreddits. You can click the sort button in the upper left to sort by posts that are “hot” (trending), new, controversial, and more.

There is a search bar near the top, which you can use to find both posts and subreddits related to a term. A search for “world cup,” for example, turns up some popular posts about the World Cup, and relevant subreddits such as /r/soccer.

Anyone with a Reddit account can create a subreddit, for any topic (as long as it stays within the site’s community guidelines). Subreddits are managed by “moderators,” volunteers who can edit the appearance of a particular subreddit, dictate what types of content are allowed in the sub, and even remove posts or content or ban users from the subreddit. Reddit as a whole is governed by the admins, employees of Reddit who have vast powers across the site, including the ability to strip moderators of their privileges and even ban entire subreddits from the site.

Next to a post, you’ll likely see up and down arrows, as well as a number. Users click the arrows to upvote or downvote posts, increasing or decreasing their visibility, and the number reflects the current sum of upvotes and downvotes. Reddit users can also upvote and downvote other users’ comments, and every account has a “karma” number tied to it, which indicates how much karma their comments have received in total. Karma doesn’t get you hip Reddit swag or anything like that, but it does help to boost your standing in the Reddit community. Be proud of your Karma! (Or don’t; one could argue it’s a vapid number that merely shows how skilled you are at pleasing the crowd.)

Like most online communities, Reddit  has its own language. Redditors tend to talk in abbreviations such as OP, TIL, IAmA, and AMA. “OP” just refers to the “original poster” in a thread, while “TIL” means “Today I learned” and is one of the most common abbreviations you’ll see. Many posts are simple “TIL” observations and realizations. Both “IAmA” and “AMA” refer to what might very well be Reddit’s most popular feature: The “Ask Me Anything” thread. In an “AMA,” a well-known person like Barack Obama or Nick Offerman, or someone who’s had a unique life experience — or a harrowing one, such as the woman who was mauled by a bear, fought it off, and drove four miles down a mountain with her face hanging off — submits himself or herself to the inquisitive minds of Reddit. The resulting threads are some of the most insightful, humorous, and fascinating interviews you’ll ever read.

You can also help make the community by purchasing Reddit Gold, the site’s premium membership program. For $4 a month or $30 a year, Gold users have access to features that regular users don’t get, and they test out new features before they’re released to the wider Reddit community. Users can also give Reddit gold to other users as a gift, usually done when someone makes a post others really enjoy. Reddit Gold also gives you access to /r/lounge, a super-secret subreddit where the brightest minds on Reddit assemble to engage in witty banter (or something), along with other benefits. You don’t need to buy Reddit Gold to have fun on Reddit, but it’s a way to support the site, get some perks, and be invested in the community.

Just remember, Reddit is a group of people meeting on the internet, sharing stuff, and talking to one another. That’s it. Act as you would if you were hanging out with old friends or new ones. Reddit’s become a popular hub for many topics, both good and bad, and it’s recently taken steps to making the site more inclusive by eliminating explicit content from its public homepage.

Signing up 

If Reddit sounds like your kind of place, then sign up by visiting the login page and securing your username, password, and email before verifying that you’re not a robot. Once you’re signed in, Reddit will give you suggestions on how to find popular boards you might be interested in. If you already know what communities you want to be a part of, then just type it in the search bar in the upper-right corner.

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