Reddit to launch app for AMAs

Alexis Ohanian, investor and founder of Reddit, speaks about net neutrality for the Internet during...

Alexis Ohanian, investor and founder of Reddit, speaks about net neutrality for the Internet during a discussion hosted by the Free Press Action Fund on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 8, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/Saul Loeb)

Andrew Wallenstein, Variety.com

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

LOS ANGELES - Reddit has made its long-awaited entry into the mobile app category with one devoted to its most popular attraction, the Ask Me Anything (AMA) interviews.

The Official Reddit AMA app is already available on iOS and is expected to arrive on Android later in the week.

The app simplifies AMAs to make them easier to read and ask questions in real time, not to mention browse other AMAs and be notified of trending interviews. Reddit aims to improve upon the Web-based version of Reddit's AMAs, which has been criticized for lacking an intuitive user experience that could be more welcoming to uninitiated users.

The new product is perhaps the most significant indication this year of Reddit's interest in broadening its user base and improving its monetization strategies, which have kept the company from turning a profit as its 10th birthday approaches next year.

"We want to make it easier for new users to join Reddit and experience all the awesome content," said Ellen Pao, senior VP at Reddit who oversees the company's mobile efforts. "That's part of the overall goal of becoming a more mature company."

But with 133 million unique monthly visitors as of August, Reddit is still very much a force with which to be reckoned, having doubled in unique users ever year since its 2005 launch. "We're excited and happy to grow but we've never been super proactive about it, it's always been done organically," said Pao. "Now it's time to be more proactive and grow."

The site's devotees have demonstrated a collective ability to take content viral through a system that allows users to "vote up" submissions, increasing their visibility. However, Reddit has a reputation for trafficking in less than advertiser-friendly materials, such as the nude celebrity photo explosion that mushroomed on the site over the weekend.

While most of the 7,800 active subreddits on Reddit are the domain of hardcore Internet users, AMAs represent its most mainstream area, with 6.2 million followers. By essentially crowdsourcing the interviewing process to its users, Reddit has attracted AMA subjects as prominent as President Barack Obama to a who's who of Hollywood luminaries. Upcoming AMAs include Denzel Washington.

The Reddit AMA app may be just the first of more apps to come from the company, though Pao said there's no plans to try to redo what failed three years ago. "We're not trying to be the be-all-end-all of every interaction users want to have on Reddit," said Pao, who said she will continue to collaborate with third-party developers.

Reddit is in the unenviable position of having largely ceded the ground of primary app access to popular third-party alternatives including Alien Blue on iOs and BaconReader on Android. The site attempted to launch an official app that provided mobile entry to the entire site in 2011, only to abandon it months later when it failed to gain traction amid complaints of glitches.

Reddit was compelled to finally try again, albeit in more targeted fashion, because it could no longer ignore growth trends. In August, 40% of new users came from mobile, five times what it was in the same month three years ago. One-third of page views come from mobile web. How many more are coming in from third-party apps isn't known.

"We've found in the last year or so a huge uptick in people accessing Reddit from the mobile web, and we want to give those folks a great experience," said Pao.

There are no premium aspects to the app but it could help monetization by providing a forum for native advertising, which Reddit has experimented with successfully with marketers including Nissan, the Grammy Awards and the Economist. Native advertising won't be placed within AMAs themselves but the app will provide exposure to these campaigns elsewhere on Reddit.

"The types of interaction we have between our communities and our advertisers are becoming more and more native," she said. "You'll see more and more people targeting native adds to the Reddit community."

Reddit's revenues, which the company does not disclose, are primarily from advertising, though recent diversification efforts have included a Gold subscription offering and a gift exchange program.

But the company has to be careful: As a similar social-news site Digg found out, a few wrong moves that ignore the core audience's preferences in favor of monetization manoeuvres can send even a very large user base scattering to rival sites.

Since Conde Nast parent company Advance Publications spun off Reddit nearly three years ago, the company has been stepping up efforts to get in the black. The staff has grown from 15 to 65, allowing for the resources required to develop the new app in house.

 


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