The Dark Enlightenment subreddit has roughly doubled in traffic over the last year, although if you go by the numbers from April, it actually doubled from April-August 2014, and has nearly leveled off at another doubling as of this month from August 2014 to March 2015.
As a mostly backseat moderator, I have access to the numbers. The rest of the moderators gave me permission to share them with you:
This jives with unique user numbers that I see on my site. The majority of the engagement probably happens with a minority of users, most likely a core group of 4,000. Of those, maybe 2% are active writers, which would be a typical ratio. Users also don’t match precisely with actual individuals — so these numbers are really only good for showing the shapes of trends, and are a lot less precise than they seem.
Nemester, the most active moderator, had this to say about the growth and the general state of the subreddit:
I know that the NRXN generally isn’t very happy with the sub. For some reason. I am guessing it is because my personality is almost entirely unknown. I can see why it is hard to trust /u/nemester since it appears like I don’t contribute anything to the theory of the community…
That aside, however, I don’t think anything better could have been put together given the platform, honestly. Every other far right sub on reddit is pretty much just another version of /pol/ and has lots of shitty quality posts and comments. Policing the community to remain intellectual requires a lot of work, and that work has borne fruit here. It also pisses off a lot people who have to be dealt with firmly and sometimes harshly. The hardest part is having to ban someone who otherwise could contribute productive ideas, but they are such an acrimonious shitbag that they can’t be tolerated. Anyway, when I compare the quality of the submissions here to the quality of the comments of acknowledged neoreactionaries on twitter, there is a world of difference and it does not favor twatter. (I have an account which I don’t participate, I just look for links) That said, sometimes reasonable conversations are had there occasionally.
He also credited the creation of /r/DebateDE as being effective at sapping some of the energy away from trolls who would otherwise be disruptive. Nemester also credits these two posts (1, 2) on post-modern discourse for being good effective guidelines for channeling discussion.
Vakerr, the second-most active mod, added (to explain his lack of contributions outside the subreddit):
Speaking for myself, while I have 1/4 English genetic heritage I grew up in central Europe and English is a 2nd language to me (3rd or 4th actually but that’s beside the point). So I’m not practiced in writing lengthy essays in English. Keeping up with the output of the NRx community is using up my available time anyway. In fact, considering the volume of the output, curating and shepherding the discussion is becoming increasingly valuable.
Scale and reddit mix poorly
Reddit was designed on democratic principles. Popular links rise whether or not they actually have other qualities other than mere popularity. The design of reddit also makes it easy for people from hop from sub to sub. This is good for raw growth numbers, but raw numbers are completely useless for most intellectual or community-building goals shared by most of you.
Reddit actually has a relatively small user base of maybe 3.2 million users of which maybe half are active. It just has some outsized influence because journalists and other people in publishing use it as a test bed to predict what will be popular. In this way it has a bit of a self-reinforcing effect — the clique of redditors is influential because publishers assume that they’re influential, which reinforces itself.
By comparison, Twitter has maybe 75 million active US users (of whom not all are individual human beings), Facebook has about 200 million, and Pinterest has roughly 50 million, all reported by the companies themselves. Someone should really audit all those numbers.
Links and posts that become popular can, if the subreddit is so configured, wind up in the feeds of users who have no idea hat the subreddit is. Niche subreddits with small user bases can generate some high quality discussion (much like old newsgroups dedicated to specific topics), but once they grow past a certain point, the discussion quality tends to degenerate quickly as the members stop being able to recognize most of one another.
Rather than grow one large subreddit to as enormous a size as possible, it’d be better to try to redirect as much traffic as can be to more specific areas of discussion. Reddit’s design makes this a little tougher.
Size in a subreddit can also be mitigated by imposing more rules on who’s allowed to submit links, but that doesn’t solve comment quality issues.
I think that in general people should not expect too much of Reddit as a platform. Private discussion on more specific topics is easier to manage and to control quality on. People who use Reddit tend to be of wildly varying quality, and it’s impossible to pre-assess that on the site itself.
Pageviews are next to worthless
Something to keep in mind is that pageviews and new warm bodies are next to worthless. They tend to be a cost. There are billions of people connected to the internet, and most of them are poor, ugly, and stupid.
Pageviews are only worth something when it’s a proxy for the attention of a valuable person, or a person with high potential value in the future.
There are plenty of places where you can buy pageviews for anything ranging from a few pennies to many dollars depending on what you’re looking for and who the people are. The majority of people in the world are useless or worse than useless, and getting their attention costs resources without returning anything positive.
As a general rule, effective human beings are harder to get a hold of, and far more useful. On the internet, because of the way that it’s structured, the tendency is to pander to people who are heavy users of low value. That’s because their attention and time comes cheap. Speculators also tend to overvalue the attention of worthless people, so executives respond to that irrational behavior by spending more time and resources manipulating the short term attention of said mostly-worthless people on the internet.
If the only numbers you pay attention to are web server activity, you will pander to the people who make those numbers go up more than the rest. You can write a bot or network of bots to make those numbers go up in arbitrary ways — and many do.
Display ad driven platforms like most social networks also will tend to try to condition you using notifications to feel a surge of pleasure when engaging in mostly worthless interactions. This is also a usual internet use pratfall that’s easy to fall in to.
Earnings are a slightly better metric, but that’s also tricky — you can spike short term earnings by scamming people, which involves the building-up of good will followed by the rape of that same goodwill. There are no perfect metrics.
But here are some guidelines:
- Numbers aren’t everything
- When valuing numbers, value valuable things more than numbers which are tough to value
- Aim to attract people of the highest quality possible
- Disqualify low quality people whenever possible or shunt them somewhere else
- There are many measures of quality and virtue — they can be piety, wealth, intelligence, industriousness, cleverness, courage, good humor, chastity, etc.
- Quality attracts quality. Low quality attracts low quality
- If a crowd forms, chop up the crowd until it returns to order, then chop up the crowd some more
- Put people to productive ends whenever possible
This is also how I’d also make an economics writ small argument against populism and participating in the election process. Directing people to vote is a high cost activity. It requires a big initial investment. The only economically rational reason to do it is to get repaid by the politician after he’s elected. If your primary goal is to reduce corruption in society, it makes no sense to pursue that goal in a way that can only be sustained by using corrupt means.