Episode 0051 · June 15, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Mod Drama

[Unedited Transcript]

Rich Ziade: [00:00:00] [Mic bleed] what?

Paul Ford: Yeah. Yeah. R slash naruto. Um, r slash physics closed. That’s a million members,

Rich Ziade: What about r slash power washing porn?

Paul Ford: But something like 95% of Reddits are, are going private. The moderators are taking them private subreddits.

Rich Ziade: Okay, so it’s June 12th, 2023.

Paul Ford: Sure. Is

Rich Ziade: when, that’s the time we’re recording this. This’ll air probably within a few days. Um, and what you’re, well explain what the hell’s going on. I use Reddit. I’m a lurker. I don’t post,

Paul Ford: Yeah, me too. I mean it’s, you know, r slash headphones, r slash[00:01:00]

Rich Ziade: yeah. All the usual.

Paul Ford: So, um, Reddit, for those who don’t know, is an enormous site full of pornography and conversation.

And it’s been around for a long time, well over a decade. Um, and it is, uh, you know, it’s a giant bulletin board for the internet. And like most bulletin boards, it’s utter, utterly reliant on its moderators to keep things under control on a per community basis.

Rich Ziade: basis.

Okay, so you’ve got. Subreddits, what they call subreddits, which are topic-based. Uh, and there are certain people who have specific rights to make sure that things don’t go off the rails.

Yeah. Inappropriate content is posted. People are mean to each other. Whatever the

Paul Ford: they can erase posts and, I mean, it’s Reddit, so it’s kind of a high stakes game because the, you know, people post some rough stuff and

Rich Ziade: Right. So the moderators wield a lot of. There’s rules that the moderators set.

Paul Ford: set. They set rules, they set rules per community, they collaborate.

Some of these communities have millions of members, some of them have tens of thousands, like they’re big. [00:02:00] You’re representing, uh, you know, probably way more than, you know, hundreds of millions of people are gonna come across Reddit. Okay? So, uh, Reddit changed its API rules, meaning that if you want to have a client for Reddit that isn’t the official Reddit client,

um, you have to start paying for access to their a p I.

Rich Ziade: Okay? So Twitter’s

Paul Ford: done. Like other people have done like it, it’s not a shocking move. It’s an odd one this late in the game.

Rich Ziade: it’s been many, many years. And there are, that’s the thing. There are. Client apps for Reddit that are immensely

Paul Ford: They, they kind of define the experience for most people who are heavy users.

Rich Ziade: that’s right.

Paul Ford: And so what happened is some of these apps had much better moderation tooling than the the regular app.

Rich Ziade: Got it. So one tap to get rid of something bad or whatever it may be.

Paul Ford: here come the moderators and they go like, whoa, you can’t do this to us. You’re gonna kill us. Well,

Rich Ziade: hold on.[00:03:00]

So. Reddit didn’t shut down its api. They just started charging money for

Paul Ford: Correct. And then what happened is they

Rich Ziade: prohibitive for these little apps

Paul Ford: survive. Well, and and they’re not that little, right? Like, but they’re, they’re like, well, look, that’s it for me. I’m not gonna spend 20 million a year on this thing.

I can’t make that into a business. Uh, and I have so many users, so I’m done. I’m, I’m peace out.

And the mods went. You can’t go because I, I can’t use the regular app. It’s exhausting.

Rich Ziade: So let me ask you this.

Paul Ford: So wait, wait. Let me just, I’ll finish what happened, which is Then it’s almost like I don’t wanna go into too much detail cuz this narrative plays out again over and over.

Incredibly unproductive, like, uh, interview with the CEO town hall type meeting. Very, yeah, very like, well, you know, uh, you know, kind of not as this bad, but pretty bad. Like, sort of like at Reddit we’re convinced that everyone is an important voice, you know, that, that kind of thing. Uh, [00:04:00] followed by a complete revolt.

And then they said, we’re gonna just shut, take ’em all private. Best of luck.

Rich Ziade: So you can flip a subreddit.

Paul Ford: Ahmad can flip a switch. Now obviously Reddit still has the master key so they could switch it back on, but they can’t make you moderate because they don’t pay you.

So it

Rich Ziade: lead to chaos.

Paul Ford: So you essentially, you have a group, a vast group of unpaid labor.

And, uh, kind of having, essentially a strike. Yeah. Um, until they can get better tooling and apps and e p things all worked out

Rich Ziade: look to, to fully get the full picture here. I’m gonna be Reddit.

Paul Ford: Okay?

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: I want to, I want to go ipo. It’s been a long time.

Rich Ziade: wanna go ipo. It’s been a long time. Um, uh, before I go into character as.


at Reddit. Um, just to make clear that I don’t, I haven’t thought about this and I don’t necessarily [00:05:00] fall into these views.

Paul Ford: Okay. But you’re gonna be Reddit.

Rich Ziade: I’m gonna be Reddit. hi.

Paul Ford: Hi. How are you doing?

Rich Ziade: Avid gardening moderator. Okay. Nice to meet you. Oh

Paul Ford: Oh yeah. No, I’m just out here gardening when I’m not moderating. How are you?

Rich Ziade: I’m doing well. Um, uh, I love how it’s framed as unpaid labor. It’s a topic of passion for you. You get to talk to your friends on it, and it’s free.

Paul Ford: Well, you know, I’ll tell you, that was true for the first three and a half hours, but now there’s 360,000 members and there is an, there is an argument about cucumbers that’s been going on for 24 weeks.

Rich Ziade: I didn’t recruit you and I can’t fire you. There are other gardeners. What do you want from me? I pay the a w s bill to even give you this service.

Paul Ford: Okay? Now if I’m true to form, I’m just gonna start sobbing.

Rich Ziade: and I will just start laughing.

Paul Ford: there is.[00:06:00]

Yeah, No, there is no, there. There’s very little productive dialogue that way. Right? Because what happens is the mods, I’m gonna say something that’s not cool, but I’ve seen it with many at large. Uh, Site, your average mod is very motivated to mod and, uh,

Rich Ziade: MOD’s gonna mod, MOD’s

Paul Ford: gonna mod and, and maybe other aspects of their life aren’t, aren’t imbalanced, aren’t, aren’t imbalanced,

Rich Ziade: I’m enjoying this. I thought I was the one who’s gonna

Paul Ford: this is a disaster, right? Like I, I’m about, I’m, we’re about

Rich Ziade: This is so good. You’re saying they’re not getting enough sunlight is what you’re

Paul Ford: the truest cancellation is about to come for me right now.

Rich Ziade: Keep going, Paul.


Paul Ford: So mods are gonna mod and mods. Um, boy have I seen this play out a lot. It’s real serious business. It is the ultimate internet drama, which is, I have given you my labor and you will never acknowledge it enough.

Never. And if you say, well, I’ll pay you, I’ll pay [00:07:00] a dollar 50 a post. They’re like,

you know, like, you can never compensate me for what I’ve done. That is a vibe. Right. And it is real. And at the same time, these organizations really are utterly dependent on humans showing up and cleaning up other humans mess.

Yeah. So, you know, and then there’s this bizarre dynamic, which is new to the internet in some ways, where you have these like quasi-governmental organizations. Lots of volunteer labor. The closest analog would be like a big church, like the Catholic church, right? Like you, you, you know, nobody is a, you know, nobody like you might go like clean up the church or dust the

Rich Ziade: Yeah,

Yeah. And, and you do it because

Paul Ford: you want everybody to have a really great experience. Yeah. Yeah. And, and

Rich Ziade: you’re around a lot of people who have common interests

Paul Ford: And then they said, actually, we need more money. And so we’re gonna, we’re gonna shut down your access to the really good tools. You’ll have to work harder for no compensation, uh, to do the thing that we need you to. You [00:08:00] in order to survive. That’s the mod point of view and the reta point of view is like, why don’t you buck up buttercup?

This is life and if you don’t want to do it, maybe somebody else will do it. Right?

Rich Ziade: I mean that’s, that’s what they’re,

Paul Ford: say that Can’t say it. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: I mean, but they’re effectively saying that, right? Like, a staring contest. And


we’ve seen the same dynamic play

Paul Ford: I saw Stack Overflow went through it, I think stack there.

The moderators are currently on moderator strike. Again, like it’s just a,

Rich Ziade: Here’s what humans confuse. Humans confuse control with ownership.

Paul Ford: Especially on the internet. Especially on the internet. Yeah. The internet. Well, the internet, here’s what I would say I do. Look, we can, we can pursue that to its end, but I, I think people get this, I do feel that the large platforms are really okay with people getting that, being confused that way until it doesn’t work out for them.

Rich Ziade: Well, sure. I mean, look, let’s get to their response, which was a boneheaded response. That’s, let’s, let’s treat that separately. What happens is, if a, a [00:09:00] platform reaches a certain skill, the people that, um, wield power on it, and I mean, control and power are interchangeable here. Effectively in their minds and in the minds of the communities that they’ve cultivated, appropriate the platform, they view it as theirs.

It’s not yours anymore. You happen to be the one that actually pushes the API, calls out and gives them the app, and you keep security working, but it’s not yours. It’s theirs. And,

Paul Ford: Facebook, or you know what? Reddit’s at a funny scale though, because like the mods in the communities are all kind of insular.

Whereas with Facebook, you do have these giant communities, but Facebook’s like, listen, this is your problem. I made the box for you. You can do whatever you want and if you screw up, we’ll take it away. But like, just don’t make any trouble for me. I’m not, you never getting a penny outta us.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. Which, which by the way, gives you a sense of, of how well Facebook threaded the needle.

Paul Ford: Well, do you remember, we talked about this earlier, that the buy nothing [00:10:00] groups bootstrap on Facebook. Yeah. And then they’re like, this isn’t enough. We need to create our own community. And then the community absolutely imploded. Yes. Because once they left the absolutely indifferent, nightmare vision of the web that Facebook likes to present, and we’re like, we’re gonna humanize this and make it accessible, an eruption of human need and anger and frustration followed not at Facebook at them.

Rich Ziade: Look, Facebook never had to deal with this because there are no Facebook clients. There’s

Paul Ford: No, that’s right.

Rich Ziade: the corp experiences that Facebook produces and the reason that was the case, and they,

Paul Ford: most people think the internet is Facebook in the world, right? Like that is

Rich Ziade: you never have to apologize for a thing you didn’t do.

So Facebook doesn’t have to explain to anyone. Nobody is protesting Facebook for not having an open api.

Paul Ford: Well, now actually between about 2021 to 2022, you actually had to apologize all the time for

Rich Ziade: different, reasons, [00:11:00] and then TWI Twitter had this moment, which is if this is going to be a platform that allows for advertising placement at scale, we have to control the whole

Paul Ford: experience. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Rich Ziade: otherwise, what’s the point? And they, and there was heat

Paul Ford: also because all the clients were like, we’re not gonna let any of those off lads in your feed.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, exactly. And so Twitter shut it down little by little. They pretty much made, and I think they worked out for a couple of the more popular apps.

I think they gave them a little bit of a pass cuz they, they found them to be not harmless, but they did shut it down. It was early enough. This is a perfect storm because moderators define power moderators. Are getting yelled at at work, but they go home that night and they wield power.


run the kingdom. And [00:12:00] now Reddit. And let’s talk about how stupid Reddit turned out to be here. Right. My guess, and I don’t know this for sure, my guess is if you sat down and looked at probably the half dozen apps we’re talking

Paul Ford: about mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: the material difference it made to not come to terms with those apps is probably has nothing to do with their revenue story.

Paul Ford: story.

Oh, they could have figured this out.

Rich Ziade: They could have

Paul Ford: figured this was an, like so many of them. This situation could have been avoided. But

Rich Ziade: you remember before when I was imitating Reddit executive, that’s the, that’s the fatal flaw, which is like, what’s going on here? I gave you a free thing. You built a community on it.

You haven’t paid me anything. They sing it purely through their eyes.


Paul Ford: Well, what’s tricky too is when a. Community is a little toxic. And I’m gonna, I’m gonna just go out on limb and say, sometimes the MOD community in Reddit can be pretty difficult to work with.

Um, you do start to get a, as a, and this is a bad move as a leader, you get that kind of like, you get punch drunk. You’re just like, [00:13:00] all right, well, they’re gonna hate me anyway. Oh, whatever.

And I, that’s, that is danger zone. That’s when you actually need to step back because yeah, okay. They’re gonna hate you no matter what you do, but you actually, you can’t make your decisions based on like, man, whatever the hell of them.

The hell of them.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, exactly. And, and, and it’s just not thoughtful. It’s not thought out. Look what they’re hoping, I’m guessing this by the way. I’m guessing they’re hoping, like, you know what, take it to Thursday, man. Give it four days. Nobody’s gonna, nobody’s gonna forget

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And that may be the case, except for like a handful of subreddits.

Many people will just go, I mean, I’m still on Twitter

Paul Ford: Yeah, no, I

Rich Ziade: literally spoon feeds me the dumbest ads I’ve ever seen

Paul Ford: Listen, listen man, look, you can spend all of your time trying to figure out which platform for, they’re all bad. Everything’s bad,

Rich Ziade: everything’s bad.

You know what you really want.

You wanna see cool like, um, uh, pilot [00:14:00] tricks? Yeah. In the slash pilot slash flying.

Paul Ford: Let’s be clear. If you decide to apply an ethical razor to where you’re gonna consume funny videos of cats, That’s fine. You can do that. Absolutely. And you will never be among the majority of humans. They just, it just doesn’t


Rich Ziade: are consuming. They don’t care. Right.

Paul Ford: They don’t care that there is a policy. They don’t know there arm mods. They don’t, they know that the, the cat make the cat jumped on the table.

Rich Ziade: That’s,

Paul Ford: that’s literally, you know, most people just aren’t

Rich Ziade: Honey, check this out.

Paul Ford: Yeah. Most people don’t know where they are on the internet. That’s a fantasy of the internet that anyone cares.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Right. And I say this as someone who builds web software, like people don’t know. They don’t, if you, if you work for a magazine, they think you work for another magazine.

If you work, if you build a website, they think it’s another website. Yeah. They don’t, no one knows.

Rich Ziade: one knows a hundred percent. How would you, two questions for

Paul Ford: like smart, powerful [00:15:00] people. They’re like, they can’t tell the difference between their email and the web.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. A hundred

Paul Ford: People who have hundreds of billions of dollars of combined spending power don’t know what a URL is, and they’re in their fifties.

Rich Ziade: close this

Paul Ford: with

Rich Ziade: a two-part question for you.

Paul Ford: All right.

Rich Ziade: What do you think is going, how do you think this ends and how would you like, well answer the the second part first. How would you like it to end and how do you think this ends?

Paul Ford: I never want it to end.

enjoying. it. I

prefer the drama because Reddit is kind of a messy experience.

You always feel a little gross. Yeah, so watching it implode is kind of fun. Like I, I’m

Rich Ziade: I I’m hearing

Paul Ford: Yeah. Like I, I do want it to end because like, you know, otherwise if you go look for a piece of stereo equipment, there’s, it’s very hard to get good resources.

Rich Ziade: It’s a good resource. Yeah. You can search the search [00:16:00] capability and re is


Paul Ford: It’s a lot of the internet, like a lot of what was good about the internet ended up getting concentrated in a few places. Reddit’s one of them, as well as a lot of what’s bad about

Rich Ziade: So you don’t wanna see it fail?

Paul Ford: I don’t, I don’t wanna see anything fail. I, I mean, I, it’s, it is a very, very val for all of its ups and downs.

It’s an extraordinarily valuable

Rich Ziade: there are good places on

Paul Ford: So I would like to see it. What would I like to see happen? I would like to see some sort of amicable resolution. Amicable resolution here. It feels like the right path is to make sure that. Mods have access to the tools they need to do good work.

And, you know, maybe they need some ceremonial, like mod awards or just like some, some, you know, sacrificial thing needs to happen. Uh, what do I think will happen? Probably that because you can’t have a total revolt of your revenue source.


Like, you gotta gotta figure this out because yeah, you can go back in and make everything unprivate again, but then people will just start spamming it.

Like, this is your human defense against all the other humans. [00:17:00] Yeah. I mean, I, you just

Rich Ziade: so they have to work this

Paul Ford: I mean, you could rebuild it, but it’s an awful thing to have happen if you’d like to go public or you’re looking for an increased public profile.

Rich Ziade: Uh, the theme we’re seeing, and we’ve seen it with Twitter play out over the last nine months is, um, really great sound business guidance powered by expensive consultants.

Rarely factor in how humans work.

Paul Ford: now, especially on the internet.

I think we, we really have this fantasy that there’s one kind of behavior in business and it’s consumer behavior,

They’re either gonna buy it or not.

And, and, and what people don’t understand who aren’t really internet people is the amount of value destruction that can be produced by one or two tiny missteps.

Rich Ziade: A hundred

Paul Ford: Because it just, it’s wildfire. It’s like, imagine if going to mc, every time somebody went to McDonald’s, there was a non-trivial chance that they would destroy the entirety of [00:18:00] McDonald’s.

Like the whole company. Like

Rich Ziade: with one flipping, one switch in one McDonald’s In Pennsylvania,

Paul Ford: no, you know, it’s like literally like one picture of like a, you know, chicken McNugget with a horse head and

Rich Ziade: part hubris. It’s part really thinking you’re exceptional at problem solving. And boy, do these things get outta

Paul Ford: I, well, and I, I think like if you are the leader of one of these companies, you’re so exhausted and you just basically see humans in the abstract because there’s no other way to see them at that scale. And so then they do a thing and you’re like, oh, well they all, you know, oh well. Okay. Yeah. Here we are.

So I, I think, um,

Rich Ziade: I do hope it survives. I think it will survive and they’ll work it

Paul Ford: These, all these, they’re they showed who’s in charge?

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s, it’s not a matter of who’s in charge. I think what they showed was, um, that the sort of silent pact.

There’s a contract that existed, which is like, yeah, Reddit, we see you’re [00:19:00] promoted ads, but you gave us a playground. Let’s keep it chill. You

Paul Ford: talk about Milwaukee all day long.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. And,

Paul Ford: and, I am the, like I am the Reddit mayor of Milwaukee. That’s a cool thing to

Rich Ziade: it’s a balance of power. Yes.

That’s not codified anywhere. It just

Paul Ford: It’s funny, it wasn’t money, right?

Like money always gets invoked like we are your unpaid labor. But it was API access and tooling that just, that nuked this, it was, you’re gonna make, you’re gonna add friction and everybody went, no you’re

Rich Ziade: Yeah, Right,


Paul Ford: that’s, it’s actually what this comes down to is a labor movement around usability.

Rich Ziade: That’s essentially it.

Paul Ford: Isn’t it wild

Rich Ziade: anyone. They’re not saying, we’re lowering your wages.

Paul Ford: there. There’s the future, man. If you make your software less usable,

Rich Ziade: They may revolt on


Paul Ford: that’s when it happens.

Rich Ziade: yeah. Um, this is entertaining. I agree with you on that point.

Paul Ford: Oh, they, there’s a whole website where you get to watch all, and I learned about all these Reddits that [00:20:00] of course I can’t visit right now, but,

Rich Ziade: You’re like, I be interesting.

Paul Ford: but, and it’s us, you, you start to realize like, wow, r slash mil is doing good.

Like it’s one of the biggest media platforms in the world, right? Just woo. Oh Cats. Um,

Rich Ziade: well, uh, best of luck to Reddit.

Paul Ford: Best of luck to the Mods. I know you guys. Everybody’s gonna work this out cuz you’re all in a sick, twisted, nightmare family

Rich Ziade: Exactly. You live. Yeah, exactly. There

Paul Ford: Have fun at your infinite gathering of the Juggalos website.

Rich Ziade: Um, this podcast has been sponsored by another web platform called aboard@aboard.com.

Paul Ford: does, does a board need mods because it’s about organizing links. It has some Reddit vibes.

Rich Ziade: Well, a board by default is private.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: And you can flip a switch and make it public.

Paul Ford: but no comments from the public,

Rich Ziade: but no comments. And you can’t see the internal comments

Paul Ford: a board is for like a group of people who could fit around a table to work together, [00:21:00] maybe to comment on things, have a little conversation, get stuff done, uh, save links, create data, and share it with the world if they so choose. But it is not that kind of like rapid, infinite forum software. That’s not what we’re building.

So, and it’s, take

Rich Ziade: out@aboard.com.

Paul Ford: I can be honest, I, I feel validated by some of our product choices watching this meltdown.

Rich Ziade: I, I look, I think the trend around smaller, tighter circles rather than mass broadcast is real beyond

Paul Ford: well, you just, There’s all these scaling problems. The best, you know how it’s like the best bug.

The best bug fix is the one where you don’t introduce the bug in the first place. You just do. Yeah. And then the best solution to moderation is to create less surface that requires moderation.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. Exactly.

Paul Ford: that’s what we’re building. Anyway, check it out@board.com. If you wouldn’t like to hear more podcasts, you can, uh, check out Z ford.com.

You can hit us on Twitter at z Ford. You can send an email to [00:22:00] hello@zford.com.

Rich Ziade: Let us, uh, reach out. We’d love to get questions. Have a lovely week

Paul Ford: Bye.

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