Social Network Users Are Sending Two Members Around the US

By Mic Mell,
Users of Online Social Community Reddit are sending two of their own on a cross country adventure.

Users of Reddit.com, an online social network, are banding together to create a unique adventure. They are sending two unemployed users of the community around the United States for a month, visiting members of the community and participating in missions created by the Reddit community. In less than 24 hours, the community raised enough money to send two of its members around the US, and are now working together to plan out the trip for the winners.

The criteria was simple: Someone who represents the average Reddit user, and someone unemployed, ensuring they can take the time for this project. According to Alexis Ohanian, a reddit co-founder, the average Reditor (as users have dubbed themselves) is a "median age of around 28, predominantly male, well-educated, and rather affluent for their age group."

Reddit user HiS_oWn (who requested to remain anonymous) posted a discussion on Aug. 17 suggesting that the Reddit community raise funds to buy someone a JetBlue Unlimited Flight Pass. He offered to contribute $100. The JetBlue promotion allows travelers to fly as much as they want to select destination from September 8-October 8. HiS_oWn often uses Reddit to post random thoughts that pop into his mind. He prefers the website over other popular social networks such as Twitter, as do many Redditors. He suggested fellow Redditor Saydrah manage the process, as he knew she had a background in fundraising.

"We're purchasing the time of people who we most identify with for a chance to live out all our shared community culture in meatspace and feel good about doing so," he said.

Saydrah is a twenty-something woman who lives in Colorado. She works with media companies, training their staff in effective methods of social media marketing. She has spent years participating in animal rescue efforts, campaigns for local progressive candidates, and spent many years as a community organizer. She spends many hours every day on the site, and is quasi-famous in the community. For her, the idea started as just another 'thread,' the term used to describe the strings of comments that accompany submissions, and can often exceed hundreds of comments. She saw it as "another project where everybody says, 'hey yeah, that would be cool,' and nobody ever does anything about it." When asked about why she chose to take the project on, Saydrah said "my own appreciation and surprise that people would put that much trust into me from my comments on a website had me not be able to say no."

Upon starting the discussion, the community polarized around the idea of sending one of their own on a month-long adventure they could participate in vicariously from their own homes, and possibly even host the traveler. Within hours, a Reddit user created a separate forum on the site where users discussed logistics of the fundraising, selection of the winner, and started brainstorming ideas for the adventure. Saydrah began screening applicants and prospective hosts while HiS_oWn managed the fundraising side, setting up a donation page on a Kickstarter, a website that connects projects and donors.

A comment thread was created for Redditors to plead their case for being chosen, and the screening process involved a questionnaire and phone call verification. Saydrah whittled the candidates down to five potentials, and one late arrival. The final voting took place in less than eight hours, and the community voted on the winner, using Reddit's voting system for articles as a vehicle for democracy. For eight hours, the six finalists shared why they were best suited to be Reddit's unofficial ambassador, and Twenty-four hours after the idea first showed up on Reddit, the winner had been selected.

As voting continued, JetBlue cut the promotion short due to high interest. The deadline crept up on the community, and they were still short the cost of the ticket. Saydrah contacted two websites for sponsorship, Associated Content and Foodproof, and both sites donated to the cause in return for blogging and commentary during the trip. and when the voting closed (hours before the tickets were no longer being sold), the community had raised almost $2000, enough for two flight passes and some spending money. "It was a combination of coincidence, really great opportunities, and the fact that a lot of people came forward," Saydrah said. "JetBlue pushing up the deadline probably helped us... striking while the iron was hot."

The two winners are users Draynen (Tom) and 77or88 (Jake). Tom is a 27 year old videographer for films and web series from Seattle, Washington. He was one of the first to throw himself in the running, pushing his video skills and his investment in the community. Jake is a 22 year old recent college graduate and experimental artist from Granville, Ohio. He spent a long time reading the conversations on Reddit (known as lurking), and became an active user 9 months ago. He loves to travel, and when he spotted the comment thread, he started throwing out ideas for missions. He posted some pictures of himself dancing with vikings and wearing a lion costume, appealing to Redditors offbeat sense of humor. "You always hear about people winning these things, but it's never you," he said.

Redditors weren't the only people looking to create an adventure with the Jetblue special. Wired Magazine reported on Brendan Ross. Ross used craigslist to attempt to find a benefactor, although his efforts came up short when the deadline passed. Wired.com (also owned by Conde Nast) reported on this story.

As of now, the Reddit community is planning the itinerary and creating adventures for the duo to embark on, and they are taking the opportunity to live out as many inside jokes as they can. The duo will be hosted by Redditors in various cities, and . Jake said, "...it is a sense of adventure. Most of the people on the website would want to do this if they had the opportunity to do it." Those users who donated More than $50 are getting the first choices of special missions. Suggestions for missions include delivering a bacon pasta from one Redditor to another as a taste test, seeking out a popular user who recently left the community at his college, visiting Reddit Headquarters, going to a cat sanctuary in Florida, and various bacon related adventures (the Reddit community has a particular fascination with bacon and narwhals).

When I asked him how it felt to have created an idea that is bringing his community together, hiS_oWn said "...There's have been fundraisers before... we're not solving the crisis in the Middle East, we're not raising food for hungry orphans in Africa, we're sending two kids... who are down on their luck on a one month "self-realization" trip." Saydrah said, "Reddit has a small neighborhood, niche feel. The community has evolved organically."

Ohanian said Reddit's official position on this is "Awesome!" So far neither Conde Nast nor JetBlue has released a statement regarding the adventure. During the voting and donation process, the Reddit administrators looked on with encouragement, not involving themselves in the process in any way. "Now that it's really coming to fruition," Ohanian said, "our community manager, hueypriest, has reached out to the travelers. In the event that some of our clout could help them do something cool (like pet a narwhal) we're happy to make a few phone calls."

Internet interaction has become a compelling social phenomenon. Online social networks offer the opportunity to connect with people around the world, and afford various levels of anonymity. Like the real world, every online community has its own dynamics and hive mind mentality, and Reddit is no exception. Reddit has no user profiles, and the users often know almost about fellow users, including what they look like and their location. So what would have the community come together for such an adventure?

Ohanian said, "We [the administrators] do very little to cultivate it. If I can use a gardening analogy, we just built a nice planter box, through in some good soil and tried to keep it well watered and well lit. The community does the rest."

Tom (Draynen) said, "The reaction was spontaneous and.. organic. even the Reddit Team... took a step back to let this happen on it's own. "

His_own said, "We're the same meme-gorged, pun obsessed, idiotic, sexist, crass and immature people as everyone else in the world, we just think we're not and that's all the difference in the world."

Saydrah said, "I think these things happen best when they are random, sudden, almost a form of weather. A natural coming together to do something awesome. "

This is not the first time an online social network has come together like this. Last year news aggregation community FARK raised funds for a user who has cancer, and Reddit has banded together several times, including reuniting one user with his long lost mother. "Social networks do this all the time. Online social networks don't, but have been around maybe 20 years at most. Even Reddit is less than 5 years. Community values like that take a long time to get ingrained and even then there are fairly large obstacles regardless of the medium," His_own said.

"In my mind (and I do not speak for the 'hive mind'), Reddit is only different because we think we're different. I feel that even deluding ourselves that we hold to a high standard sometimes causes people to act upon those higher standards, and every so often it succeeds and we get stuff like this,"

"As a Reddit co-founder, 4 years in, it's still pretty surprising whenever something like this springs up," Ohanian told me. "Our site has always been (and continues to be) everything it is because of our community. Seeing community action like this just validates all the credit we've been giving them for the last few years. Not only can they run a news website, but they can also send a few bored Redditors on strange tasks around the country. Next it'll be low Earth orbit."

Jake and Tom's adventure as unofficial Reddit ambassadors can be followed on the Associated Content and Foodproof websites, and a video diary is planned, most likely to be available at reddit.tv.

Reddit.com is a source for what's new and popular on the web. The site receives 6 million unique visitors each month who generate over 110 million page views. The site is divided into sub-reddits, which span topics including politics, science, religion, relationships, hobbies, and over ten thousand smaller communities. Each subreddit is created and managed by members of the community, and has its own front page. Registered users can subscribe to various subreddits, and see a customized home page when they are logged in.

To find out more about Reddit and how it works, you can see the following resources.

A map of subreddits: http://www.christophervandyck.com/r/karmanaut-redditmap.htmlA list of the 10,000 most popular subreddits (in order by number of subscribers): http://www.christophervandyck.com/r/reddittop10000.htmThe Best of Reddit comment threads, highlighting the most interesting comment threads on the site: http://www.reddit.com/r/bestof



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