Fixing the Reddit Frontpage
(with apologies to my readers who do not care)
My favorite social news site, Reddit, recently implemented a change to their algorithm which determines what gets on the frontpage. In Reddit there are sub-communities called, not surprisingly, subreddits. The Reddit folks decided to normalize each link’s “hotness” to the other links within the same subreddit. This well-intentioned move meant that subreddits with fewer voters would show up on a subscriber’s front page.
But wait! Normalization is not the answer. Let me give you an example: Suppose I am subscribed to the following subreddits:
One of these things is not like the other. You guessed it. Lolcats. Don’t get me wrong, I love lolcats. I really love lolcats. Yet, I don’t want an equal number of lolcat links showing up as I do good ole fashioned news stories. The “hotness” normalization means that a lolcat story can make the front page (this is good), but it also means that a comparable number of lolcat stories make the front page as do, err, more important stories (this is bad). The Negative Nancy will tell me to unsubscribe to the lolcat subreddit. To Negative Nancy I then ask, what is the point of having subreddits?
So how do we fix the reddit frontpage? It’s simple. Reddit should normalize each link’s “hotness” to the other links within the same subreddit AND normalize the frequency with which these links appear. To what should the frequency be normalized? It could be a user-chosen slider bar, or, if you want to cut back on feature creep, just use the frequency with which a user looks at/votes on stories in a subreddit.
For example, if I view or vote on twice as many business articles as lolcats, it’s a statistically good bet that I would like to see more stories from the former. It would not have to be a 2:1 ratio, but a sensible balance would go a long way towards fixing the frontpage.
This change would solve the current problems for users who are subscribed to some of the more esoteric subreddits. No longer would a large number of niche links displace the true blockbusters.