Obama Reddit Q&A shows crowdsourcing format

August 30, 2012

Obama Reddit Q&A shows crowdsourcing formatPresident Barack Obama took part in an “Ask Me Anything” question and answer thread yesterday. The event was prestigious in itself for the site, but also proved a great advert for the site’s format.

The whole point of Reddit is that the positioning of content, whether that be images, comments or links to news stories, is determined by the votes of users. In theory at least, the site has a critical mass of users that means the prominence goes to content with mass appeal rather than stuff that is put there by cranks, promoted by special interest groups, or simply boosted by people trying to game the system for their own amusement.

That concept came under test with the selection of questions for Obama. While such online Q&As are usually heavily moderated, the site’s Erik Martin told the Los Angeles Times that Reddit used its standard procedure for selecting the queries:

“Your question can be seen by the president based on the votes of those in the community regardless of how many followers you have or if your question is picked by some sort of moderation team.”

At the moment it appears that is indeed what happened here and the 10 questions presented to Obama were all relatively sensible while still covering a range of topics: eight of the ten are what you’d think of as politically relevant, with only two softball questions on sport and beer.

That’s not to say the associated comment threads didn’t have any wackiness, the most well-received among Reddit regulars being a painting of Obama (pictured above) posted by a user with the self-aware name shitty_watercolor.

The event also brought some neat irony with Reddit’s servers struggling to cope with traffic and some users having trouble accessing it. That’s a change from the more common issue of a highly cited mention on Reddit causing another website to crash.

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