Yishan Wong

April 20, 2012

IAm Yishan Wong, the Reddit CEO

Sorry about starting a bit late; the team wrapped all of the items on my desk with wrapping paper so I had to extract them first (see: http://imgur.com/a/j6LQx).

I'll try to be online and answering all day, except for when I need to go retrieve food later.

17:09 Pacific: looks like I'm off the front page (so things have slowed), and I have to go head home now. Sorry I could not answer all the questions - there appear to be hundreds - but hopefully I've gotten the top ones that people wanted to hear about. If some more get voted up in the meantime, I will do another sort when I get home and/or over the weekend. Thanks, everyone!

what's your favorite subreddit?


Although I am disappointed. There has been a severe drop in good content being submitted to that subreddit over the past few weeks.

How would you compare Reddit to similar sized companies?

Compared to companies that drive a similar amount of traffic: reddit is able to do so with far fewer employees and a lower cost basis.

Compared to companies with a similar number of employees: reddit drives way more traffic (well, maybe except for Instagram?) and has a much larger influence on the world.

Compared to companies of a similar age: Sometimes you need a 6-year window

what is a typical day like? (if it exists)

I don't think I've had a typical day yet.

One macro thing that makes my days atypical is that I have to commute 40 miles each day to the office, so I actually spend two days working off-site either at home or another local co-working space. So I split my on-site days doing more face-to-face stuff and my off-site days doing more thinking/writing. Though we just got an offer accepted on a house in SF, so hopefully that will end soon[1].

Another thing is that in a ceo position, you often don't have typical routines. You're sort of dealing with whatever issue is most important. I'm hoping to set up a regular cycle of face-to-face meetings soon with every member of the reddit team (right now they've been ad-hoc) so that I can keep up to date, and that might give some regularity to my schedule, but so far it's just been dealing with things in a "as-they-come-up" fashion. It's a transitionary period, both in me learning more about the company, meeting other ceos to get tips about the job, working on financial/legal items relating to the company's separation, etc.

[1] reddit ceo tells you about his personal problems

This AMA.

Pretty much. Today was reserved entirely for the AMA.

Don't forget our dinner date!

I'll bee there!


No, bees!

Do you plan to toke up today?

Not today.

First off (delayed) congratulations on the position, wish you all the best. Question: Can you describe a regular day as a Reddit CEO? Are there emails/phone calls involved? A brief explanation would be great. Thanks

Most of my days are pretty irregular, dealing with whatever comes up (or which I planned for that day).

I am definitely a big user of email. I think that stuff is great! You just type your letter on this magic television with a keyboard and zip! the computer just sends it off someone! I love the future!

The phone, less so.

You must have cats.

That's not a question.

Facebook integration ftw!

edit hivemind didn't get the sarcasm :-(

A bunch of my friends who work at Facebook have said that to me, and I'm like, "No, you guys."

What plans do you have for the future of Reddit?

Hey, I'm going to write a really detailed answer here but this is a placeholder while I write it; interspersed with writing shorter answers to other simple questions. Just want to let you know.

(one hour later...)

I've begun to converge on the idea that a good way to think of reddit is as a city-state. This is in contrast to how a lot of businesses think of themselves as e.g. money-making machines to be optimized and exploited, and customers to be cynically manipulated.

In particular, when answering the question, "what is reddit?" there are at least two answers that often arise. The first is "reddit-the-company," which is a legal entity responsible for maintaining and building the platform (servers, code). The second is "reddit-everything," which is both reddit-the-company, plus the community, their contributions, the brand, etc. This has a lot of similarities to a city-state. With a city, there is the legal framework and physical infrastructure, plus basic services. Then there are all the people who live in the city and form communities and institutions and culture and provide the real character of that city. The "City of San Francisco" is the legal entity, and then there is "San Francisco" that people think of when they say the name, with all the people and culture and institutions. Notably, the city-as-legal-entity does not own the people and communities. It may exercise jurisdictional power for purposes of maintaining civil order (e.g. police, fire, anti-spam), and there is a concept of eminent domain, but morally speaking the city exists to facilitate and steward the messy human goals of the people who live there. This is how I've come to think of reddit.

1) Community: I would like more people to be able to use reddit. reddit is great, and I think that with continually-improving community-management features, the proliferation of subreddits means that more people can find communities that they like on reddit and benefit from the general positive spirit that reddit has. It can be a city-state that is unbound by the geographical limits of real-life cities, and subreddits can do a lot to loosely link together many diverse communities and peoples.

I agree with our heretofore policy of non-interference except in exceptional cases where the greater reddit is threatened. It maps pretty well again to the analogy of a city-state: city administration does not interfere with peoples' private lives and their debates except insofar as to maintain civic order. Even usage of eminent domain is very controversial, so it's not done lightly. So I feel that we have two main goals:

2) Infrastructure: a key responsibility of reddit-the-company is to maintain a reliable, quick, and efficient infrastructure. We're the only ones who can, and ensuring that basic services run well is key to everything else.

3) Self-sustaining revenue. reddit has a number of promising revenue streams that can be responsibly scaled and there have been good ideas from both the community and team about other things we can do to monetize that are beneficial rather than extractive.

If you have a million people living in a city, no one says, "Hey, we have two million eyeballs, let's monetize by plastering every city surface with ads!" I don't have a personal objection to ads per se, but the problem of being reliant on advertising as our main revenue source is that you're always beholden to the people who pay you money, and if we (reddit-the-company) are beholden to outside advertisers, we may not be aligned with the interests of our users. The situation where your revenue comes from advertisers but you try to hold the line on what's best for your users is a tough situation to be in: there's constant tension and difficult tradeoffs - both Google and Facebook have this issue. I'd like for us to not have that issue.

I'd prefer for us to be "beholden" to our users. If we can have most of our revenue coming in from users - either in the form of paying for additional services we build or if most of our advertising comes from the community advertising to itself (e.g. self-serve) - then our interests will be more aligned, like a city-state is beholden to its taxpayers.

So, that's roughly a high-level conception of how I see reddit (managing a city, rather than a product), and what I believe that implies regarding our responsibilities in building that city.


1) I see reddit as a city-state

2) Community, infrastructure, self-sustaining revenue

As a reddit advertiser (and online advertiser in general) can I beg you to build a better DIY advertising platform?

I would be spending SO much more money on your site if the tool was even slightly better.

More importantly, easy to use DIY ad platforms (with geo-targeting) democratize your advertiser base. It doesn't need to be fancy, just easy enough to use that a redditor can promote their local business.

That way you can keep your advertising revenue within the community.

edit: i can't write


I do think that DIY advertisers are essential to reddit (I like the idea of the community advertising to itself), and for various lack-of-resource reasons we neglected the tool. So definitely, we are going to work on improving that.

I mean, yeah - you want to give us money; I want to make it easier for you to give us money!

How about the blatant USA-centricsm going on about here? Are you aware people outside the USA also use reddit?

Sorry about this.

As part of "community," I include internationalization. We are going to accelerate our efforts to fully translate the reddit site, because I want people around the world to be able to use reddit.

Incidentally, I managed the internationalization engineering teams at both of my last two jobs, so I'm pretty partial to this. :-)

Can you further explain what you mean by advertising coming from within the community? What is to prevent businesses from outside of the reddit community to take advantage the same way a community member would?

Also, why is it so difficult to take a hard line stance? For example, "you have no control over content of reddit, you may buy certain amounts of advertising space at x price, if you want your message to be seen by millions of redditors then these are the rules you play by. If not, have fun while your competitors utilize reddit as a great advertising medium."

Also, cities run on taxes, and you even mention taxpayers. Paying for additional services and selling ads are nothing like that. Don't you think your city concept breaks down, and strategy should be based on the honest assessment of the situation? There is no reason in dancing around the truth, that reddit is a business. I don't really understand why so many people are uncomfortable with this.

Sure, i can explain this a bit more.

Advertising is sold through different channels, and this makes a big difference in terms of what kinds of ads are sold and what their intentions and messages are. I am proposing that we focus on channels which are primarily either self-serve (and bias towards coming from existing community members) or direct sales to industries and entities that we know to be often philosophically aligned with reddit (e.g. video games). Other channels include direct sales ad deals with entities like Proctor & Gamble, who may be looking to launch a new line of toothpaste. Sure, if P&G wants to, they can come in and use our self-serve ads system to place a million-dollar ad buy in the system, but they're not going to. If they did manage it, they would probably have become very familiar with the community by then, and probably integrated favorably into it. These "soft roadblocks" that make it easier for certain entities to advertise with us tilt the nature of the advertisements towards being more relevant and community-friendly: if you are a member of the community, you will care more about how your message is perceived, as opposed to being external to it and just have a million-dollar budget that you have to drop into the "social link-sharing" advertising channel.

I agree that no analogy is perfect, and I'm sure that the city analogy will break down at points. The idea was to try and come up with the closest analogy, which would be the most helpful. However, I still think it's highly relevant. Not all cities run on income taxes, for instance (do you pay income tax to your city?). Some of them run entirely on sales tax, or some run because they may provide some essential central service that brings in enough revenue to cover all costs. For instance, we could implement a method to allow and encourage commerce between redditors, and simply serve as payment intermediaries and take a cut, which would essentially be similar to sales tax.

Lastly, the "reddit is a business" thing is actually red herring. In the last 20 years, there's been a weird skew towards a notion that if something is a business, it must be oriented towards generating revenue for shareholders, and in particular generating revenue on the shortest possible timeframe ("producing shareholder value"). This is a relatively recent phenomenon in business - in the past, many businesses thought of themselves as "customers first, employees next, shareholders last." reddit is a corporate entity which in its most limited definition just means that it's an entity for limiting liability and representing collective intentions. Further, we are a private company with very few shareholders, so the notion of "shareholder value" can be defined very broadly - we may simply consider "value" to be "making reddit really great and having a positive effect on the world." So, no dancing around.

I submit to you that reddit is as much in the user-profiling business as Facebook and Google and that this fact is not made explicitly transparent to the user base.

Can you speak to my assertion that the actual value in reddit (as a company) is in the ability to compile massive amounts of personal information on the much-sought 18-34, single, male, 'tech-savvy' demographic that avoids traditional media outlets and is stubbornly reticent to volunteer market data through established means?

Well, to start, the 18-34 single male demographic is not the most valuable demographic to market to.

The best demographic to market is to actually moms. This is because moms shop for the entire family, whereas men (or young males) only shop for themselves. Moms are responsible for the majority of online commerce, something like 60-80%. You/we nerds aren't that important.

Secondly, reddit collects far, far less information about you than any other major internet property. I recently found out that our comscore numbers are something like 4M uniques a month (they're really like 35M+), because we don't even have the little comscore tracking code in our pages. This hurts us with potential advertisers because many of them rely on comscore as the canon truth for traffic, so we are being hamstrung at looking like we have 12% of the real traffic that we do, purely because we're bending over backwards not to track anyone.

Thirdly, the 18-34 single, male tech-savvy demographic does not need to be subverted into offering market data. I mean, come on. They know what we like. I wager that anyone here can offer five keywords and at least two (probably three) will represent some product you and I either like or want to buy.

So, the answer is no. We're not in the user-profiling business. It's true, we could be, but we're not.

what are your plans for the "search" system?

Make search fast and comprehensive.

Any Googlers who love reddit and would like to re-write a search system from scratch can contact me.

Speeds not the issue, look what I get when I try to search for your IAmA

Well, let me include correctness/relevance in my definition of comprehensive. But basically, yeah.

Do you play starcraft II?

Yes. yishan:215

Low Silver league, baby!

Shhh... we're sucking up!!!

Thanks. :-)

What's your thoughts on the reddit "Hivemind?"

It's actually a remarkably good analogy.

You know how people often use "herding cats" as an analogy for managing developers or writers or other difficult-to-manage people?

Well, "managing" the community is kind of like beekeeping. There is absolutely no way to get it to do what you want, so you can't really manage or control it, you are mostly just trying to set up ways for all the bees be happy. Flowers and stuff[1]. And if they are happy, sometimes they will make honey, and everyone seems to like that (e.g. positive change for the world, charity drives, etc).

Occasionally something will piss off the bees (sometimes it's something you do, or something someone else does) and they will swarm around and sting you. You really can't do anything about it, but also the swarm eventually goes away.

And like beekeepers, you just need to be wearing decent protection, or have a thick skin. I grew up in the internet age of trolling and flaming, so it's pretty okay for me.

TL;DR: yeah, it's like a hivemind. It swarms uncontrollably, but it also makes honey.

[1] I don't actually know much about beekeeping.


Yeah, I love footnotes.

How can us users helps advance Reddit? How do you feel about the current direction of our lil (massive) world?

Well, let me first reference my vision of "reddit as city-state."

From that perspective, I would say, "Do what a citizen who is proud of their city would do to build and enhance that city."

There are many things that make a city great that the city government cannot do. They have to be done by private individuals or many individuals working as a collective.

One of these things is creating institutions that promote the ideals of the city. Some institutions are public, but others arise from the desires of the people. On reddit these might be important subreddits (and moderating them), conventions of behavior (and encouraging them by telling people and expressing disapproval when violated), or schools of thought (like styles of moderation). Or probably half a dozen other things I haven't thought of.

These are important because institutions live and die by a more free-market dynamic than the actions of city government, and thus are more faithful to serving the needs of the community. reddit's unique value is very much its community, so helping to grow institutions of and by it is very crucial.

Or, if that sounds too lofty and daunting, just help spread reddit to your friends. Help bring people to our fair city, and show them around. reddit-the-company will try to build some better subreddit-discovery features, but the real reason people come to a new city and love it is because of the people they find there. So one thing you can do is just introduce people to reddit and help them understand it and feel welcome.


1) build institutions within reddit

2) introduce new people to reddit and help them feel welcome

Or, if that sounds too lofty and daunting, just help spread reddit to your friends.

So to use reddit you have to have FRIENDS now?

I don't like these changes. Not one bit.

Creating good novelty accounts contributes to the community too.


I just wanted to thank you once again for being one of the few users who's tossed something (in your case, quite generous!) into the Reddit Enhancement Suite tip jar.

I know I thanked you privately, but I hope you don't mind me doing so publicly, as well.

I get discouraged sometimes with RES because there's an awful lot of negativity and entitlement that surrounds it with people freaking out over tiny little things... when the CEO of Reddit shows up in my email... well.. that's the sort of thing that helps keep me motivated to do what I do... so thanks.

Okay: I owe IAMA a question...

What are your thoughts on how the community has created tools around Reddit -- not just RES, but things like AutoModerator, sites like RedditInvestigator, etc -- do you feel that certain tools may be a detriment to Reddit, or is all sorts of crazy tinkering always welcome?

Oh, you're welcome! RES is great! (also, yes, I got your message - sorry I didn't reply!)

I think it's great that the community creates these tools.

It's always true that people can create bad tools, but I just consider that a part of, well, reality.

I'm also sort of partial to a sci-fi cyber future, where augmented humans and fully autonomous robots live alongside humans according to a stable equilibrium of social conventions we have not yet begun to figure out. If you think of reddit as a fully-fledged community (or a city-state), I think one inevitability is that humans will augment their capabilities with tools, or even create totally autonomous robots (e.g. the moderator bots). Ultimately, I believe these things don't make the world better or worse - they are exactly as good as humans ever are - but it's a future vision that I like, because it's more intense and cool.

It's possible that we will be able to extend our API allow such tools or robots in a more controlled/predictable fashion, but we haven't gotten that far with our thinking.

What are your plans and ideas to keep Reddit from going all Myspace?

(sorry for the multiple questions, i just thought of them while waiting for you.)

Generally I want to refrain from speaking ill of competitors ("competitors") but they are so far gone so I think maybe it's okay.

One thing to point out is that it's actually pretty hard to screw up the way Myspace did. They did almost everything wrong that you could do that I'm not even sure where to start.

I guess I'll start with two big basics:

1) Don't love your advertisers more than your users. If you're going to use advertising as a revenue stream, keep in mind that advertisers go where users are, but users don't go to a place for the ads. At one point, Myspace implemented an ad for the Hulk movie on the frontpage, where the Hulk would pop out at your on your browser for a few seconds and play an animation before you could use the page. No human being goes to a site to see an ad like that.

2) Open-source technology stack I'm not saying this due to any OSS idealism, but there's an interesting thing that happens for sites of a world-class size: at the highest traffic levels, OTS (closed-source) software doesn't scale. This is just because OTS software is built for the common case, i.e. non-world-class traffic levels. OTS open-source software also doesn't scale - the difference is that once you hit the scaling limit of your technology stack, open-source software allows you to open it up and scale it yourself, whereas closed-source software does not. Myspace was continually at the mercy of Microsoft, who had to send down technicians to try and scale their stuff for them, whereas e.g. Facebook just keep building out its stuff using its own engineers. This meant that Myspace often had spotty or terrible performance and was powerless to do anything about it.

Ahhh... this could get so long so I'm going to link to an answer I wrote elsewhere about it. Sorry to be lazy - there are so many questions here to answer!

Aside from SQL Server, I don't see how closed-source tech matters that much. If you can build a large site with Python/PHP, then you can do it with anything, including .NET (which is the same as Java).

The reasons most big sites don't use MS is

  1. licensing costs for MS stuff
  2. 3rd party tools are also expensive and don't scale
  3. free stuff that does scale ok runs on OSS stack
  4. all the cool kids prefer OSS
  5. the ecosystem for OSS is huge and free

These are all the reasons I don't use MS even though I prefer C#/.NET.

The closed/open-ness doesn't affect how good it is, mostly.

What happens is that all software has limits. Can your software handle a million queries a second? How about a billion? How about a trillion? Somewhere in there, it just stops working. Everything has a limit. You can maybe switch to a better technology but eventually if your site is big enough, you will exceed the technical capabilities of all available software.

The difference between open/closed comes about because once you hit that limit, you can open up the open-source software and tweak it (if your engineers are good enough), whereas you can't do that with closed-source, even if you have great engineers.

So what I mean is that for the top-end sites (i.e. more traffic than anyone else), open-source software allows you to push further. If you are not going further than other people have already gone, you don't necessarily need your stack to be open-source.

Hey, can you copy and paste the Quora answer here? Fuckers want me to log into Facebook to read yours ... no quiero.

Thank the Hand, I guess: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/sk1ut/iam_yishan_wong_the_reddit_ceo/c4ep4lf

What's your favorite meme?

(I have a bet with a coworker that it's high expectations asian father)

You win the bet.

  1. How do you intend to monetize Reddit?

  2. Are you going to actively and aggressively pursue more celebrity attention and activity here?

  3. What is your goal as CEO?

1) In a nutshell, by giving users more reasons to pay us money.

This might seem awful, like "oh no, he's going to charge us for reddit services!" but what it really means is that I want to try and make sure reddit is doing things for you that you value so much that you want to pay money for them. I feel that reflects who we're creating value for. If you do things that make advertisers money, it means you'd doing things that create value for advertisers.

While I'm not philosophically opposed to ads, and in fact I'm happy with people advertising on reddit, I feel that if our main source of revenue is advertisers, it means that we are mostly serving advertisers. If our main source of revenue is users, it means that we are mostly serving users.

As a user, it's what I'd prefer. There are sites that I like that are good enough that I am willing to pay for them (reddit is one, actually), and there are sites that I use for free, and someone else is paying for that fact. I'd like reddit to be the former.

2) Kind of, yes.

I view celebrity attention and activity as something that helps bring people to reddit. The question is how to bring the right types of people to reddit, i.e. people who are interested in discourse and community, and would find reddit interesting.

3) I would like to see reddit as a platform for universal human discourse, available to all. I hope to see a day in the future where whenever someone says, "I would like to have a discussion about X" and whether X is serious or frivolous, the obvious answer to that question is "reddit would be the best place to have that discussion."

are you going to fix the markdown syntax so that you don't make silly list-numbering mistakes like this in the future?


On reasons to give you money: I'd like to create a subreddit that costs $1 to be able to comment. It will instantly filter out trolls. It's basically Metafilter for subreddits. You can keep the dollar.

Or you will get really good, high-class trolls. First-world trolls, if you will.

But yeah, I think that's a worthwhile idea. I have friends who like Metafilter.

If, hypothetically, Facebook were interested in buying Reddit, would you sell? If so, for how much?

I used to work at Facebook. Not to say that working there was bad, but I don't see any reason to go back.

Do you ever plan on large changes to the way Reddit works?

I prefer small changes over large changes.

It would be cool if we could have some way to test our changes on smaller scales (like having some subreddits voluntarily adopt them or something) so that things could evolve more quickly through experimentation, but that's as far as my thinking goes on that topic.

According to your wiki page you were the SEM of PayPal... So I'm curious if you know why PayPal makes it intentionally hard to contact them when you need to (even going so far as to obfuscate their phone number on their own website)?

(more accurately, was a SEM at PayPal)

Yes, they do. The reason is not exactly sinister - one issue facing many internet companies is that they have a much larger user-to-employee ratio than brick-and-mortar companies. They simply can't provide enough humans to handle the call volume, so they structure things to encourage you to contact them via other, more scalable means like email or webforms. If they gave you a readily-available phone number, the call volume would be so high that you'd spend most of your time waiting on a busy signal.

That said, that's not the worst problem with PayPal's customer service. :-/

Why don't they just say that instead of being all sneaky about it? Lack of transparency is probably the one thing that irks me the most about companies.

I should try to get the CEO of PayPal to come do an AMA.


Nice try, google/facebook/microsoft.

what does your desk look like?

Today it looked like this.

Do you think the front page has too many images/memes, as some old-timers say, or are you basically fine with where it is?

It has too many memes. I recently unsubscribed from pics and funny, which helped a lot, but that is not a solution that occurs to the casual user.

Who was your biggest influence growing up?

Maybe Richard Feynman?

is there any way at all you can limit all your comments to Rampart?

I was actually going to try and see the movie before i did this AMA so that I could make comments and talk about it, but when I looked it was only being shown in these obscure theaters over an hour's drive from me.

If you could change one thing about Reddit, what would it be?

I think I'd like the user demographics to be more gender-balanced.

Not to say that I have a problem with dudes, but I think communities are always nicer when there's more even gender representation.

How many bikes does one man need? Are they to ride around your incredibly large office?

I don't know, but I believe there is a bijective correspondence between the set of bikes you saw in that picture and the employees who own those bikes.

How do you justify the existence of subreddits such as r/rapingwomen, r/chokeabitch, et. al., when reddit has banned other hatereddits like r/stormfront?

I checked into /r/stormfront.

First, for the casual reader, it appears that /r/stormfront these days is a troll/humor reddit devoted to weather and white supremacy.

Second, it turns out that the banning of /r/stormfront apparently occurred in the distant past, prior to when any of the current employees worked here. However, dim recollections of the event from people who were part of the reddit community include: - /r/stormfront wasn't actually banned, they went private - /r/stormfront was banned due to the mods using it primarily for spamming/vote-cheating, and not content.

So, I apologize for not having better data on that specifically. Do you have any better data on /r/stormfront and what happened?

In any case, perhaps a modern example is the existence of /r/White_Pride and /r/WhiteRights.

We do not justify the existence of subreddits with controversial or objectionable content. We justify a general policy of being a neutral communications platform that strives for a bias towards freedom of expression because we operate in a country with such laws and a cultural tradition of the same (i.e. First Amendment, etc).


I believe that narrowing the gender divide is actually the best way to combat misogynistic ideas.

Certain ideas take root or find fertile ground because of the demographics of where they are being discussed. If the demographics are different, the dialogue can move in another direction. Some of it through social pressure, some of it because different, opposing, and valid ideas can be brought to bear and articulated in a compelling way.

I have a close female friend who frequents Regretsy, a blog dedicated to making fun of bad/weird products on Etsy. She (and other women on that blog) have characterized it as a "female version of reddit," apparently populated mostly with women who like to troll, snark, and occasionally raise insane amounts of money for charity. One of the things that happens on that site is that every time something misogynistic gets posted, it just gets downvoted to oblivion because of the demographics of the userbase (i.e. mostly female).

Taking a stance and deciding to ban certain things is always a tricky game. You take it upon yourself to make personal judgements and you can't be perfect. Further, saying "this idea is bad" doesn't work unless you have an alternative, i.e. "this idea is better." So, instead, I seek to balance the userbase itself, and I believe that to be the better solution, because it brings in more voices rather than silencing others.

Oh, also: it would be great if the TOS specifically addressed reddit's policy of unrestricted free speech, so that users know what they're getting into when they join the site. Right now it's just boilerplate that seems to contradict your stated stance here.

Yep, we will do this.

Just to elaborate: reddit has not had a very internet-ready legal department for most of its existence. On the other hand, there was still a legal staff "responsible for" reddit; they're more geared towards a large company like Conde Nast (and are located entirely in NYC). This means that we (reddit in SF) had no ability to re-write a TOS because no one was a lawyer, nor were we able to say, "Okay, we are going to get rid of a TOS." We actually do have an in-house internet-savvy lawyer now (to be introduced soon!), so she is going to help us re-write the TOS and UA to reflect the operational realities of reddit and how users use it.

What do you find most enjoyable (or daunting) about being the CEO of Reddit?


There is a great sense of potential about the future. reddit has emerged from a long line of trials and tribulations to become a great force for good on the web. What amazing things lie ahead??

Also, the cafeteria here is really good.


I could totally fuck it up. All my friends use reddit, so on Day 1 it's all "Congratulations on the new job, Yishan!" but on Day 700 it could be "Way to ruin reddit, Yishan! It was doing great before you came along!"

So I have very personal reasons to do a good job.

One of the cornerstones of Reddit seems to be freedom of speech and expression. It's a great community where lots of different-minded people can come together to discuss current events, ideas, and cats.

The past few months saw the closing of some...unsavory...subreddits.

How do you keep the balance between offering users freedom and minimizing creepy stuff?

We make the decision not on the basis of savory-ness or moral judgement. We make the decision on the basis of our pragmatic ability to run the site efficiently, with a bias towards freedom of expression.

For example:

Sexualized images of minors are a tricky issue to deal with. I'm not referring to tricky morally. I'm referred to "how can you tell by looking at a picture if a person is over or under 18?" That's a thing that a human has to do - a human has to go look at every picture you want to make a decision about and try to figure it out, and often it's difficult (or impossible). We don't have enough humans working at reddit to do it - not even close. It's also an emotionally exhausting thing to do. So we could not draw the line in the grey area, we had to draw the line all the way over to the side, i.e. no sexualized images of minors at all, at a point where we had the operational capacity to support it. We can only promulgate policies that we have the practical capability to enforce.

Another example:

Related to that issue but distinct was the /r/jailbait event itself as well. CP and related images are, practically speaking, a uniquely toxic issue on the internet. That's just the reality of things, and removing /r/jailbait was not done due to a moral judgment, but because the consequences of allowing it to continue prompted other events external to reddit that threatened the existence of the site.

To address your question directly (and unsatisfyingly), the answer is that we strive not to have to be the ones who keep that balance. We want to bias towards freedom of expression and, if we are to think of reddit as a city-state, there are always parts of a city that are "creepy" or "unsavory," but our decisions to ever eliminate or curtail them are based on practical concerns relating to maintaining the integrity of the city. That is, cities sometimes invoke eminent domain to take over or raze a block of land, perhaps because there was a toxic spill or something else that may be actively dangerous from a practical perspective. That's how we try to think about it.

Bonus track: both of the above examples actually occurred before my time, but I support the decisions that were made. They were difficult and tricky situations, even from the perspective of a user.

How many jawbreakers can you fit in your mouth?

Hold on, let me see.


Doing this was a big mistake.

Are you going to fight patent trolls?

I would like to see us implement an invention disclosure policy where we commit to only using the patents for defensive purposes.

Twitter recently announced a policy like this, so I'm a little disappointed that they beat me to the punch, because for years I had be like "man, when I run a company, we're gonna do that." And then they beat me by like a couple weeks.

Coke or Pepsi?

I am drinking Cherry Coke right now.

Was the wrapping paper incident staged? It seems like between the "I got pranked" factor and the careful positioning of the bikes, nerf weapons, and possibly the white board it might be trying to project an image of what Reddit HQ is.

Remarkably, it was not. I sort of thought that the pranks were over, but apparently everyone decided that the AMA day was a good day to do it.

The bikes are real, because we're located in SF and no one drives and there are no bike racks elsewhere in the building (i.e. the fact that we have to park our bikes there is a "bad" thing).

I have never seen the nerf weapons used. They are like antique weapons mounted on the wall, perhaps relics from the bygone era of the late 90s.

I wonder if he would implement FB-style ads and corporate accounts like in FB. He could really sell targeted ads like Doritos to r/trees or Astroglide to r/Atheism.

I wonder if "corporate" is giving him pressure. Digg screwed up because investors were pressuring him to get more revenue right?

I have no pressure from "corporate." I was hired explicitly with no direction at all, and asked to come up with what to do. So reddit-as-city-state it is.

You will be interested to know that I was the engineering manager at FB in charge of both ads and the "corporate accounts" ("FB Pages"). But I don't think that's what reddit is about.

How do you plan to generate revenues without pissing off the entire community? Like what happened at Digg?

SdotM0USE's note about viewing reddit as akin to a city-state is on-base.

But two principles are this:

1) If you're not paying for a product, you are the product.

2) We should try to come up with as many ways for our users to pay us money as possible.

[credits go to two reddit employees who originally cited/articulated these two principles]

One of the ways Digg started to go off the rails is because they became too beholden to their advertisers. Ultimately, you are beholden to the people who give you money. Thus, I want an arrangement where most of our money comes from redditors.

This doesn't mean "charge to use reddit."

What it means is that I want reddit to be good enough and useful enough that enough redditors find it worthwhile to give us money. This will likely mean the addition of value-services, or new features. Or simply developing a somewhat different advertising model where most of the ads come from members of the community, because they will be more likely to be sensitive community norms, not to mention relevant.

For more talk, see the city-state answer.

I don't know if you've been following the /r/moderationlog and /r/politicalmoderation subreddits, but I would suggest a pretty consistent bias/censorship agenda has been demonstrated by the mods of some of the default subreddits, that ultimately threatens to turn Reddit into the next Digg.

What made Reddit great in the first place was the user-generated content and the user-voting system that decides what gets maximum exposure. Censoring posts breaks this platform. How do you propose to protect Reddit from being destroyed by the mods?

This is a tricky issue, and I will try to give an honest answer.

Sadly, the honest answer is that I don't know. I'm still trying to work out the social dynamics of the issue. Here are some thoughts around that:

First, for casual readers:

"Censorship" is not exactly correct in this instance. reddit-the-company does not censor any of those posts, they're done by the moderators of those subreddits. Each subreddit is created by a user (any user can create a subreddit), and that user becomes the first moderator of that subreddit, and can delete content in their subreddit at will.

This situation would seem to be utterly democratic: users can subscribe to and read subreddits and vote, and the moderator of that subreddit can control the content within, and if users do not like that, they can leave and create a competing subreddit along similar topical lines but with different moderation policies/biases.

However, the way the system was bootstrapped in ancient history was something like this:

reddit admins created the initial list of default subreddits, and then solicited active/helpful members of the community at that time to become its moderators. Today, due to their inclusion on the front page, these default subreddits enjoy disproportionate exposure and traffic, and through numbers alone therefore wield proportionally greater influence over the discourse that happens around those topics. So whatever biases the first moderators had were institutionalized by the admins.

That origin sequence, therefore, was not completely democratic. But it was, perhaps, unavoidable.

Each of these default subreddits is essentially an institution (if you accept the city-state analogy). And, as with all human institutions, there are going to be biases, because they are run by humans. Also, all bootstrap processes leave behind traces behind that consequent the system.

The advantage of democracy is that bias is balanced by a free market of ideas, i.e. if you don't like the bias in moderation of a particular subreddit, you can start your own. But, due to the structural/historical advantage of the default subreddits, this is easier to do with non-default subreddits than with defaults.

So, that's the problem.

The way I'd like to solve it is to structure reddit so that the migration/switching from one subreddit to another (progressivism) is something that can be accomplished without an impossibly daunting energy barrier, while at the same time allow enough conservatism so that if most users of a subreddit like the way it is, it is likely to remain as it is.

That is, we do not want a tiny minority of users to be able to upend a popular subreddit, but we want to allow a certain critical mass to be able to.

There are instances where this has happened already with major subreddits, such as /r/ainbow and /r/trees, so there is precedent that the energy barrier is not too high. On the other hand, it's harder with default subreddits (I think there was something like /r/news -> /r/worldnews, and /r/iama from /r/askreddit). So the question is - is the energy barrier at the right level? Should we lower it? It's not clear, but it's possible that we can experiment with features to move the energy barrier up and down, and see how it effect the ecosystem. We may do that.

Yishan, thanks for doing this.

I'm a moderator over at /r/conspiracy and I have a question regarding the moderation of the larger subreddits.

In recent weeks, we have seen many accusations of censorship on Reddit and some suggest the content allowed on these larger subreddits is largely moderated or influenced by employees of Reddit/Conde Naste.

Can you comment on this please?

Thank you.

I am always happy to answer a question about a potential conspiracy theory.

First, Conde Nast definitely has nothing to say about how we are moderating the content in those subreddits. They have better ways of influencing the world and are just happy that reddit seems to be succeeding.

Secondly, occasionally reddit employees (admins) will remove posts. Because posts in larger subreddits get more distribution, they are more likely to come to our attention. However, we remove posts for reasons of spammy-ness or vote-cheating, not according to whether or not we agree with them.

The general risk/reward motivation of a reddit employee is "avoid getting yelled at by the community." Thus, it's primarily about doing the fair thing or what adheres most closely to the rules, rather than impose any personal bias or risk even appearance of bias, because real bias in any direction incurs the massive wrath of half the userbase.

That all said, I think a better way to address something conspiracy-ish is to try and come up with a conclusive test to either prove or disprove some part of the conspiracy. I would be open to suggestions for such tests.

How does your boss feel about you being on Reddit all day?

Glad that I'm finally doing a full day's work.

Did you take the reddit crew out to see Rampart?

I would if they wanted, but hueypriest said they saw it and told me it was pretty bad.

It's probably fun.

It's f... oh. Yeah.

Why not buy imgur?

I feel that the infinite and accelerating variety of the future world is more effectively handled by commonwealths rather than by empires.

Any plans to update the reddit iPhone app? It lacks features to edit posts, has a black screen bug since the last iOS update.

Are you talking about iReddit, or Alien Blue? I personally use Alien Blue.


No, that's hueypriest.

How hard did you have to work to get to this position? Was it merely a twist of fate, or did you determine yourself to soar through the corporate ladder?

I worked pretty hard.

It's kind of both, but I'll say one thing: climbing a corporate ladder is rarely a good thing to apply your effort towards.

Twists of fate happen fairly regularly, and the best strategy is to just be willing to adapt to what happens. In the meantime, work hard, build your skills, and try to be good to the people you work with.

How much of a dick do I need to be for you to delete my comments?

Edit: Yishan blows Goats!!

Keep trying. Your comment continues to stand.

I've asked this before, but I never got an answer, so I gotta ask again. Does reddit have an official fart poet? If not, I'd like to throw my hat into the ring:

Today I sharted
Thought I had farted
My anus was guarded
But the feces departed
I tried to hold it, but the turds, they outsmarted
I shit my pants, God I’m retarded

I have to say, I'm really impressed with your blog. (for readers: http://poemsaboutfarting.blogspot.com/)

That said, it's not one of the critical postions we currently have open headcount for, so we can't offer you a job at this time. We wish you the best on your endeavors.

You guys ever gonna get off your asses and fix the search bar into something even sort of useful?



I will accept your feedback and note it for future reference.

Hi Yishan,

What is your opinion about the war on drugs?

It has been ineffective, and we lost it. Other small European countries have done much better than we have.

How do you cope with the fact that we all hate you for taking our dream job? I'm sure it keeps you up at night...

I am sure I will not have it forever. One day there must be a successor.

how many upvotes can you give to one comment/link?

Only one. Well, once I tried clicking the up-arrow ten times, but that made it zero.

What level of education/degree do you have? What are your favorite TV shows?

I have a B.S. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon.

I watch The Office (which I find to be of declining quality), Glee (which I find to be of moderate quality), Mad Men (which I find to be of exceptional quality), and I watch old episodes of BSG and Family Guy whilst exercising.

When are we getting a 'dislike' button?

It has been with the site for some time, but is shaped like a down-arrow.

Which part of China are you from?

I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

However, my mother is from Taiwan, and my father is from Hong Kong, though originally he moved there from Guangzhou when he was 15. My parents met first in Toronto, and then again in Pittsburgh where apparently they sealed the deal.

As CEO your responsibility is to direct reddit toward maximum profits. How do you propose to do so? Also, have you ever deflowered a prom queen?

By employing an extremely long time horizon.

I believe that a lot of companies get in trouble because "maximizing profits" neglects the natural next question "over what timeframe?" If you want to maximize profits in the next quarter, you can do that - you just might end up having a catastrophe in the following one. I will maximize profits over a very long time horizon.


What is your background? How old are you, what did you go to school for, what jobs did you have previous to this?

I am an ethnically Asian male, born in the eastern United States. I am between 5'5" and 5'10" in height, and of proportional weight. I am relatively fit and exercise regularly, though I do not always get enough sleep. I grew up in the Midwest, returned to the east for post-secondary schooling at Carnegie Mellon. I worked at CERT/CC at the SEI in Pittsburgh, then PayPal, and then Facebook, in various engineering and technical management positions.

Engineer with a capital E for sure.

For more motivation for Yishan, I will provide compromising photos of rram involving a rubber ducky, some bondage gear, and an inflatable pool full of vaseline.

Yeah, he's really good. How about equity? We gave him a bunch of stock options.

Continuing with the city-state / government analogy, have you considered reddit-as-a-framework, where individual communities/subreddits could significantly tweak the code behind how reddit works (different mechanics of posting, voting, ranking etc)? I think that subcommunities might be very effective in coming up with or evolving new ways to interact with one another, akin to how states in the USA are supposed to be "laboratories of democracy."

This is an intriguing idea. I cannot commit us to it in any immediate timeframe, but it is not unreasonable.

Why didn't you get a PhD?


How much money do you make per year?

Not more than the highest-paid developer at reddit, and not more than I made at my last job as a director of engineering. I was originally offered more, but I reduced my salary voluntarily.

There was a study done awhile ago about startups (Peter Thiel cites it a lot - I think the research was done by someone he knew), where they looked at a lot of variables surrounding startups to try and find out what predicted success. They found that only one variable predicted startup success, which was how much the CEO was paid - the lower the CEO's salary, the more likely the startup was to succeed. The study wasn't able to confirm if it was causative or not, but I didn't want to take any chances, so I asked for the pay cut.

What's your salary. You said AMA!

Happy birthday!

Please see: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/sk1ut/iam_yishan_wong_the_reddit_ceo/c4esbdf

How does it make you feel to be outvoted by a kitten sitting on the girl's chest?

You can't win 'em all.



What do you think of novelty accounts?

They are great. I have 22 of them.


So how do you feel about not getting as much upvotes as Zeddie Little's AMA?

C'mon, you saw that guy. I've got no chance there.

There is a Yishan in my high school. He enjoys taking walks both before and after school (not necessarily to the school, but for fun). Are you him?

No, but this is rather interesting. I'm so glad I took this job.

What decent people did you have to trample with your ambition to reach your goals? Describe the kinds of things you did that you are pretty sure the masses would find shady.

Well, I did a lot of coding in PHP.

Mr. Wong, I've read the blog post about you and some of your job history and have a question for you regarding it.

Since you've had a great variety of different jobs and experience, do you believe it's easier to get a promotion in X company you currently work for or to "progress" by going after a higher level position in Y company. I realize it probably depends on many factors, but in general, what would be your advice?

Thank you for this AMA, hope to see you around in SC2 sometime.

It is easier to "progress" by going after a higher level position in another company if your progression in the current company is being blocked due to factors not related to your own competence.

The last part is what's hard to judge, i.e. are you really as good as you think? If you are, and you're not able to progress in your company because there are no open slots or because upper management got a poor impression of you at some earlier time and now views you negatively, then potentially you can move up by just going elsewhere. However, if you're not really as good as you think (and that's why you're not advancing), you may set yourself back by going elsewhere because you will lose any accumulated institutional knowledge that you have at your current company - you'll be the new guy at your new place and you need to start all over again. I've seen it go both ways for people.

A good way to tell is perhaps if people are trying to poach you from your current company, then you're probably pretty good. If you're not receiving any offers and a couple casual pings here and there don't turn anything up, then you might not actually be as good as you think.

Having said all that, probably a more useful heuristic is to try and make sure you are always learning and growing. Once you feel stagnant, that's really the right time to start looking at other possibilities.

Good luck!

You're Asian!?

Amazing, right? So many of us humans are!

You are in charge of facilitating a major cultural force in the world, was buying a $150 ikea galant desk a choice of style, humility, or limited budget?

Sidenote: Sam Walton used to work on a folding table. True story.

EDIT: btw, i'm a huge fan of the galant desk, I've used them for years, even modded my own multi-desk versions. So this is in no way a dagger.

Hey, you recognized the desk!

I didn't choose the desk this time, but in the past I had the opportunity to furnish another office, and I also chose the ikea galant, for similar reasons of style, humility, and frugality. It's a fine desk, very functional. It has adjustable height and it's L-shaped, which is a luxury I did not have in my previous galant-style desk.

As a strong advocate of the Reddit experience, I always find it hard to describe exactly what Reddit is without directly showing people the site. In a few sentences, do you think that you could give me a brief synopsis to exactly what Reddit 'is' in your own words?

This isn't the best overall conception of reddit, but if I were trying to explain it to someone new, I'd just say, "reddit's a big list of interesting links. There's a lot of new stuff all the time."

How are you deciding what questions to answer? Ps thank you for being very open in this AMA, its given me some insight to the site and how its run.

A combination of "answer lots of short, easy questions for quantity" and "answer a few deep, long-form difficult questions for quality."

The number of questions is so overwhelming, so my best intention is to just answer enough so that people can sort of get a rough picture of how I think about things.

Well, I'm surprised. This is the second time you're doing an AMA (right?). I've never seen a CEO being so casual with users/customers/(employees?). I thought all CEOs were supposed to be mean and strict and busy.

Technically the first time was just my job announcement, but I tried to answer some questions. After the way this one has gone, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea to do these regularly, maybe every few months, so that the community can hit me with difficult questions about the most pressing topics of the day.

(I might not have great/satisfying answers for all of them, but it's still extremely instructive to read them and consider the ideas)

In fact, I am [occasionally] mean, I'm pretty strict, and I'm definitely very busy. Luckily, in this job "busy" can mean "spend all day on an AMA connecting with the very people who make the site what it is."

What do you think about adding a time dimension to reddit browsing? I want to view the frontpage or /r/IAmA the way it was yesterday or three weeks ago.

This seems like it could be kind of difficult to do (fast) but very cool.



Why did it take you so long to do an AMA?

Because after two weeks nothing too interesting had happened, and I was afraid people would ask, "What is the most interesting thing you've learned on the job so far?" and I'd only have a lame answer. So I waited a little longer.

Yishan should hire this guy. If every AMA had this... oh wow

Yeah, this is pretty good.

When you have a community environment where opinions are sought, and your trying to build a biz, do you strive for 90% satisfaction and forget about the remaining 10%? Does that = success?

The key is to rotate the 10%.

Can we have more holidays? Like Arbitrary 1.5 day?

Take to /u/kickme444. He is the master of redditgifts. But hey, I am never one to say no to more holidays.

Yishan Wong: sorry for the stupid question: I love quora, and wonder why I should use reddit, given that with reddit it's harder to find the best/good answer for a question I am interested in.

reddit's not so much about questions and answers. It's more about just letting the stream of random wonderful internet content flow blissfully over you and hoping that there aren't any stray needles in it.


Hey, it's cool.

Whenever I show someone reddit they usually turn it down for its appearance and time it takes to find something. I for one like the simple appearance and finding of links. What do you think?

I'm interested in the segment of people who are turned off by reddit purely due to its appearance and do wonder if we can do anything about that without alienating the people who like it for its appearance.

When are we going to play The Resistance?

Soon, I hope.

I like how this question was just buried down here for me to find. I wonder what else I've missed...

Would you rather face 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?

I have to say I was utterly unprepared for this question.

I am assuming that in all cases the horses and ducks are equally hostile to me.


How has it been transitioning from such giants as Facebook and PayPal to manage "only" Reddit? Both PP and FB changed their respective fields of operation, so in your mind, what steps could Reddit take to revolutionize its field amidst competitors such as Digg?

Thanks for doing this, much appreciated, especially since you made it a full day! Much love from the UK.

I like small companies. I joined PayPal and Facebook both when they were each very small, very nimble, and comprised of people who were dedicated to the causes they were trying to bring about. Once an operation gets larger, it starts to take in careerists who are not as motivated to try and pursue the mission, so the organization begins to feel like it is starting to work at cross-purposes. I like it when things are small and everyone is aligned and super-dedicated, even if that means the company isn't as huge or formidable.

As for revolutionizing our field, well, time will tell. A revolution is always only called that in retrospect.

Okay, so, sometimes, when I try to click away from reddit, I end up on another reddit page. And when I go to google search, I'm just right back on reddit! Where's the exit to this place?

I agree, it's a very well-designed site.

What happened at burger king that got you fired in less than one month.

I think I was there for two or three months (maybe I entered the data wrong wherever it was that you read it?). I quit, mostly because I got really really sick of the job, and because I'd made enough money to cover my car insurance, which my dad was making me work to pay for myself.

How do you fit in Quora in your busy lifestyle? Your activity there seems unabated

I outsourced it to Michael Wolfe.

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Yishan Wong conducted on Reddit on 2012-04-20. The Reddit AMA can be found here.