The rise of megathreads on reddit
An interesting discussion came up on tildes about whether megathreads should be introduced. This lead me to look back on five years of moderating subreddits, and my experiences with megathreads.
I think that the rise of megathreads on reddit has been a detriment to the site.
I’m a mod for a few large subreddits that utilizes them (and I know a good portion of people reading Tildes right now are as well), and as time goes on I’ve started to dislike them more and more.
At first they were great - they seemed to silo off all the posts and noise that happened around an event, and made the lives of mods easier. Posts that should’ve been comments could now be removed, and the user could be pointed towards the megathread. Users could go back to the post and sort by new to see new posts, and know that they’d all have to do with that one topic.
After looking at the results of these megathreads, I believe that this silo actually hurts the community, and especially the discussion around that original megathread, more than it helps. As modteams I think we underestimate the resilience of our communities, and their ability to put up with “noise” around an event.
The fact that we are in a subreddit dedicated to that cause should be silo enough - each post in that subreddit should be treated as an “atomic” piece of information, with the comments being branches. By relegating all conversation to a megathread we turn top level comments into that atomic piece of information, and subcomments into the branches.
But that’s just a poor implementation of the original! There are some edge cases where this might make sense (take /r/politics, it wouldn’t make sense to have 9 of the top 10 posts just be slightly reworded posts on the same issues), but I think this can be remedied by better duplication rules (consider all posts on a certain topic to be a repost, unless the new post has new or different information).
When the subreddit itself is general (like /r/politics, /r/news, etc) it can make sense - people visiting a community that is inherently broad they might not be interested in a deluge of information on something super specific, and a megathread comes in handy to centralize the conversation.
However, with something like Blizzard, or Marvel Studios (a sub I mod), or really any active, specific community, corralling all posts to a single location actually hurts the conversation. The fact that there would be a lot of posts on the topic indicates that there is a strong desire to communicate and share information - especially since there’s probably a significant portion of the population that is visiting the sub specifically because of that event.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t remove some of these posts - for instance, if you have rules against reposts, or low effort content/memes, etc. It just means that removing all discussion and telling everyone to go to the megathread is simply 1. stifling discussion and 2. punishing late arrivers to the conversation.
There is something to be said about the ability to generate a new, blank sheet of conversation with a post, that is not marred with previous information or anecdotes. New comments on a megathread post don’t have that luxury, but new posts do.
Additionally, I feel like the way reddit originally conditioned us to view posts is to view them then not check them again (unless we interacted with someone in it or got a notification). This prevents potentially great (but late) content from gaining visibility, as a non-negligible portion of the population will still be browsing the subreddit, but will never click the post again.
A user on tildes made the following comment:
Megathreads always seem to stifle discussion
While each outlet will have the same general topic they will take there own nuanced look at it. A specific article will bring in it’s own voice and color to the discussion and it is generally tailored to it’s audience.
Megathreads smear that color until it is just a grey streak. It is just a headline with no substance or analysis of the world around it.
Also in high volume post, the 1st couple of okay comments dominate the discussion sphere, taking the air out of the event being discussed.
No real discussion happens about any of the individual articles being posted in main megathread.
The worst part about this, as well, is the fact that these top comments are usually singular and short in nature. It’s difficult to create content that resounds with everyone, or that everyone reading will enjoy. This makes it so that short quips, jokes, or the same sort of content makes it to the top, invariably. Don’t get me wrong, these sorts of comments are fine - but only when they’re not stifling the more in depth, thought out posts/comments. When they’re what 90% of people will see they become a shallow reflection of the true thoughts of the community on the matter.
Posts and comments might seem easy to dismiss at first, but they are the method in which information gets shared within a community. We have no perfect methodology to share ideologies, or even to discern which ones are most popular within a community, and the top 7 or 8 comments are really the lifeblood of these discussions. I think we are effectively cutting the discussions legs out from under it - cramping it into a small place, all for the sake of “cleaning the new queue” and making sure that users that don’t want to see that content don’t have to.
Megathreads Done Right
The way they should be done, in my opinion, is to act as a central repository of links about the topic. They shouldn’t focus the discussion itself - they should just serve to serve as an extra layer of aggregation for events that are large enough to warrant it. Posts should not be removed just because they’re surrounding a large event - in fact, it’s almost counterintuitive to remove them. Subreddits probably have significantly more users because of that event that would want to see that content.
I’m not necessarily saying all megathreads are done poorly - just those that end up forcing conversation in a single place when it’s detrimental to the experience. I believe mods should take a deep look at their communities and make a decision based on their experiences around how the discussions play out and the type of content they remove.