Aaron Swartz of Reddit fame is blogging about the experience of becoming a DotCom millionaire this week after Reddit was bought by Cond�Nast/Wired magazine (Aaron’s collection of web clippings on the acquisition). It’s a very interesting read for those of us working at startups in high tech. The fact that he’s a good writer only helps.
UPDATE 2006/11/09: Mike-o-matic has a nice writeup on the same subject.
I remember how when reddit started, the whole thing seemed so childish.
The cartoony alien, the barebones design, the fresh-faced programmers, the rented house. And none of that has really changed. It’s just that with success behind it, it’s harder to dismiss. A scribbled drawing a kid hands to you is “cute”, the same thing on the wall of a museum is “art”. You assume there must be something there, even if you can’t see it.
It’s hard to notice this when you’re in the middle of it. During the days, I mostly saw my co-workers, who lived and breathed the site. At night, I hung out with my friends, who all knew what I did. On weekends, we’d go to parties for local startups, who all wanted to emulate reddit’s success. Everyone we talked to treated us like it was serious.
But whenever I stepped outside the bubble, things were very different. At non-tech parties, I’d have trouble explaining what it was I did. (“So you, uh, have a web site?”) Once I went far outside the city to have lunch with an author I respected. He asked about what I did, wanted me to explain it in great detail. He asked how many visitors we had. I told him and he sputtered. “I’ve spent fifteen years building an audience, and you’re telling me in a year you have a million visitors?” I assented.
Puzzled, he insisted I show him the site on his own computer, but he found it was just a simple as I described. (Simpler, even.) “So it’s just a list of links?” he said. “And you don’t even write them yourselves?” I nodded. “But there’s nothing to it!” he insisted. “Why is it so popular?”
Inside the bubble, nobody asks this inconvenient question. We just mumble things like “democratic news” or “social bookmarking” and everybody just assumes it all makes sense. But looking at this guy, I realized I had no actual justification. It was just a list of links.
And we didn’t even write them ourselves.
My favorite posts so far:
>> The Aftermath
>> The Afterparty
>> Money Doesn’t Make You Happy