Reddit Goes Open Source: What Does That Really Mean?

My new favorite crowd voting / social bookmarking site Reddit made the announcement today that it’s “open source.” This means the code for the site has been made publicly available, which could lead to crowd sourced improvements to the site as well as new sites developed using the Reddit “engine.”

Apparently, Reddit has a fairly large programmer crowd among its 4.5 million monthly visitors. So these programmers can take ideas for the site and actively participate in implementing them. And this is all done under something called the Common Public Attribution License (what Mozilla uses), which means that changes to the code must be made available publicly and any site using the code needs to make this fact obvious.

In a nutshell, Reddit used to be “improved” by five programmers but now might be improved by anyone. This is the part that gets me, the non-programmer, confused about the context of open source in this case. While I think it’s cool that anyone can create their own Reddit-like site using this code, I’m much more interested in the how new features might be implemented to the original site Reddit.

Maybe it’s just assumed that the original five person team behind Reddit will sift through any submissions and decide what’s cool and what’s not. But perhaps applying the same Reddit crowd sourcing / voting model for code submissions could be useful here?

While an open source Reddit seems like a great idea, I just wonder how exactly it will work. Or, to put it another way, how can non-programmers with ideas get involved? If anyone knows, feel free to leave a comment.

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  • http://www.myfirst26point2.com/blog.html Jeff

    Thanks for posting this–I’m in the same boat as you and have been wondering how an open source Reddit is actually going to change the main Reddit site. The most obvious application is for everyone Tom, Dick, and Sally to put up their own Reddit-based system on their own site, but how useful is that really? The beauty of Reddit is it’s size–I can quickly find a lot of interesting stuff to read because the crowd has vetted the headlines for me. If there’s a million ‘personal’ Reddits in the wild, that doesn’t really help me.

    Who knows, maybe the best new features will, as you say, be rolled into the main Reddit site.

  • http://www.techconsumer.com Paul Ellis

    I think this is really going to help Reddit even if no significant contributions are made. One of the big problems with Digg is it’s lack of transparency. Anytime you lose that sense of transparency people are less inclined to feel that the process is democratic, fair, and something they can actually influence.

    Reddit has always been more transparent, and this is just another example of it. On the other hand this is where Digg, and the U.S. political system fail.

  • http://probargainhunter.com Yan

    The goal for both Digg and Reddit is to produce better quality news. If opening up algorithms helps the goal then Reddit wins. The key is probably how much existing Digg users are unhappy about Digg not being transparent.

    As for how non-programmers can participate, I think it is hard to do so w/o knowing how the site internally functions. There needs to be a document available that explains that in simple terms. After that I would guess you just submit a suggestion for consideration by the community.

  • jimmiss

    Sorry guys, us non-programmer can't really implement new ideas. Not fair I know. Anyone who has the skills would need to put many hours of work into any interesting idea. For your idea to be implemented you would need to get someone to do all that work for you, no doubt solving some difficult problems on the way, for free.

    You are probably right about the voting/social way of testing. I assume they will initiate threads/forums where people can debate the pro's and con's of a particular implementation. What they would probably do is read the conversations and decide for themselves what the best arguments made so far have been and implement those ideas.

    The great part about open source is any other programmer can read those very same conversations, make a different decision, go beta, and get more feedback for everyone to absorb. Perhaps his implementation will convert people. The cycle continues.

  • jimmiss

    Sorry guys, us non-programmer can't really implement new ideas. Not fair I know. Anyone who has the skills would need to put many hours of work into any interesting idea. For your idea to be implemented you would need to get someone to do all that work for you, no doubt solving some difficult problems on the way, for free.

    You are probably right about the voting/social way of testing. I assume they will initiate threads/forums where people can debate the pro's and con's of a particular implementation. What they would probably do is read the conversations and decide for themselves what the best arguments made so far have been and implement those ideas.

    The great part about open source is any other programmer can read those very same conversations, make a different decision, go beta, and get more feedback for everyone to absorb. Perhaps his implementation will convert people. The cycle continues.