For much of The Internet reddit is the gateway to everything interesting going on in the world.
Checking reddit.com is like reading the daily newspaper except that reddit is timely, interactive, personalized, participatory, horrifyingly absorbing at times, ...and basically, "good."
The way it works is that people submit links to reddit (blog posts or images or videos) and other people vote those links up or down.
It's a simple idea but it makes reddit into a list of the best stuff that people are reading or watching on The Internet right now.
The name is a contraction of 'Read It' as in: I already read it on Reddit, which if you spend significant time on the site, is what you'll say to everyone who tries to show you anything. It's a kind of awesome curse.
Because there are no editors on reddit, you never know what you're going to find but you can bet it's going to be funny or interesting or enraging because thousands of other people have already voted that it's something to see.
Think of it this way: if Google is where you go to search for things, then reddit is where you go to see the things that people have found.
But reddit is not just one list of stuff: reddit is a beautiful fractal with sections, called subreddits.
If you just like politics or programming or funny image captions or sports or world news there are subreddits that list only that stuff.
And there's going to be a subreddit for your city or country or region.
Love a TV show that ended years ago? There's a subreddit where people are still talking about it as though it just aired.
Tech geeks have their technology and flag geeks have their vexillology and -- and on the off chance you're interested in something the doesn't yet exist, just press a button and a new subreddit is born.
And each subreddit works just like the main page: a constantly updating list of interesting stuff according to the people interested in that stuff.
And when a subreddit grows large, it can be terrifyingly good at this: for example AWW, a section devoted to adorableness, is a GLOBAL 24-HOUR-A-DAY BATTLE TO FIND THE CUTEST IMAGES EVER!
Turns out if you give people with baby animal photos a place to have their baby animal photos compete, the result is the highest density of cuteness human civilization has yet created.
But without editors running the site, how does that sorting process work?
There's no time to get into the code, but you can think of it like this:
Links people sumbit are balloons floating up and down the list.
When someone votes up a link it adds a bit of helium and a down votes sucks out little bit of helium.
Periodically reddit puts weights on all of the balloons -- giving newer links that show up later a chance to compete against the ones that have been around longer.
This method is shockingly good at sorting stuff, be it international politics or pictures of computer setups.
Of course, when a website covers the whole of human endeavor things get weird: like subreddits for only photos of birds... with arms or only photos of Hitler... with socks and then there are always the other kinds of photos humans like to look at and sometimes collections of horrifying things that cannot be unseen.
So yeah, this has taken a turn for the worse. But remember reddit can be weird not because reddit is weird but because humans are weird.
And the great thing about reddit is that it changes to suit you: as you join subreddits you like and leave those you don't the main page becomes *yours*: listing all the best stuff from all the subreddits you follow and leaving out stuff from the ones you don't.
So reddit is a lot like life: it is what you make it.
But links are only the tip of the redditberg, because people can discuss the links and this is where the true heart of reddit lies.
Most forums on the Internet are hideous, but reddit ain't your grandma's bulletin board.
Just as that baloon sort method finds the best links there's some math that's more complicated (and less explainable) that finds the most interesting comments in a discussion and brings them to the top.
And reddit displays comments in a way that encourages back-and-forth discussions. Unlike some *other* comment systems.
This sorting and threading means that the discussion of a link on reddit is always more interesting than the link itself.
So there are subreddits that are nothing *but* discussion: such as Change My View for debates or Ask A Scientist where experts answer questions, or there's 'IamA' where people say what they are "I am a fireman" or "I am an Escort" or "I am a prison guard" and answer questions from the comments.
And because people on reddit are anonymous, discussions are way more interesting and open than if people were forced to use their real names.
Though, with anonymity you'll find that not everyone's private thoughts exposed are beautiful.
And sometimes it can be uncomfortable to see what the faceless group thinks about a topic.
But luckily reddit has a way to deal with comments you think are unhelpful.
And despite people who act badly it's clear that reddit can only exist because the majority of people, even when anonymous, are good.
But this anonymity isn't required however, so you'll also find Actors and Authors, Presidents and prime ministers all on reddit answering questions from the community.
And reddit really is a community with it's own culture and history and that increasingly has an effect on the physical world with things like: meeting up in person and raising money for charity and defending the Internet and helping a family be with their sick child and holding the word's largest secret santa and sending teachers the supplies they need.
With its rapid-fire democracy and shocking quick reactions, reddit can sometimes makes you feel more like a citizen of the Internet than a citizen of your own country.
But in the end it's hard to understand reddit without just jumping in and commenting and voting, which you really should.
Once you get the hang of the place, you'll wonder how you ever Internetted without it.
P.S. If you are already a user of reddit and love the site, you should consider buying some reddit gold to support it.
I was surprised to learn while making this video that despite its increasing popularity reddit still isn't profitable.
If, like me, you use reddit *all day* it's more than worth a couple of bucks a month.