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Reddit: A Beginner's Guide

By Edited Oct 22, 2016 5 8

Reddit is a massive online social network where millions of people from around the world come together to post news stories, pictures, videos, memes, links to websites, discussion topics, pornography, and pretty much anything else you can dream of. It's one of the biggest websites in the world. In November 2012 alone, Reddit had over 46 million unique visitors from over 160 different countries.[6218]

The site has also gotten some attention from the media recently, for both good and bad reasons, including:

  • A question-and-answer session with US President Barack Obama during the 2012 election.
  • The Reddit Secret Santa, which in 2011 won the Guinness World Record for Largest Online Secret Santa Game (with over 37,000 participants and almost $1.5 million in gifts).[6211]
  • A number of charity drives run through Reddit, totalling in the millions of dollars.[6219]
  • And, on the bad side, allegations that some people were using the site to distribute child pornography. (This has since been dealt with by the site's administrators.)[6220]

In this article, we'll go over some of the basics of how to navigate Reddit, how to sign up for an account, how to submit something, and how to get the most out of your redditing experience. 

The Front Page

The Front Page of Reddit
Credit: screen capture from http://www.reddit.com

This is what you see when you first log on to Reddit.com, known as the site's front page. The main body of Reddit is down the left side of the page – the list of links and discussions (referred to as posts). 

Let's take closer look at one of the posts.

Reddit post

This post, current the #3 top post on the front page, is a news story about internet access in the United States. If you wanted to look at the story, you'd click the title, and be taken to the article on the website wired.com.

Here are some of Reddit's features you can see in this post.


Karma score on a Reddit post
On the far left of the post, there are grey up and down arrows. Logged-in users (we'll get to that soon) are able to 'vote' on posts. An upvote means that you like the content of the post – that's it's useful, funny, or otherwise helps contribute to the conversation. A downvote means the post is not useful or is off-topic.

Add together the total number of upvotes, and subtract the total number of downvotes, and you get the post's overall score, or karma. In this case, this post currently has 3085 karma overall – which is quite high, and that's why it's on the front page. Karma is Reddit's way of sorting posts.

The user (or redditor) who submitted the post (in this case it's maxwellhill) will get this post's karma score added to his/her overall karma score. Basically, karma is useless. It can't be exchanged for anything and doesn't give the user anything special (except bragging rights) – but if Reddit is a game, then your karma is your score, and people really like getting high scores. As such, redditors sometimes get very excited about their karma, and can get very angry about people who they think are trying to get karma in unproductive ways.



Comments on a Reddit post
We can also see that this article has 1761 comments (again, this is a very high number, since this is such a popular post). Clicking on the comments will take you to another page, where you can get into often-lively discussions with other redditors. Many redditors are smart, well-informed, and very funny, and the comment section often winds up being the best part of a post. For best results, try to be civil when commenting, and write with proper grammar and spelling.

Comments, like posts, have upvotes and downvotes, and by default, comments are sorted by karma score. And, also like posts, users can acquire comment karma, which is added up separately from post karma. Comment karma is just as useless as post karma, and just as fun to collect.


Subreddit listing on a Reddit post
The final major piece of information you'll see about our post is that it was submitted to 'technology.' Each post is submitted to a subreddit, which means a section of the Reddit about a specific topic. Subreddits are commonly identified with an '/r/' in front of them, for example, /r/technology (based on the subreddit's URL, http://www.reddit.com/r/technology).

Anyone can make a subreddit about nearly any topic in the world. Not interested in politics? There's also an /r/recipes, an /r/movies, an /r/aww (for cute pictures of animals), an /r/Anarchism, an /r/FreelanceWriters, an /r/nosleep (for scary stories), an /r/BreakingBad, and an /r/ for pretty much anything you can think of. Overall, there's almost 4500 different subreddits, and new ones are being created every day![6218]

Each subreddit also has its own page. Here's the front page for /r/technology:

The front page of the subreddit r/technology

You can see it looks a lot like the main front page, but with its own special design, and a special column on the right, called the sidebar. The sidebar tells us what the subreddit is about, and it lists the special rules that are specific to that subreddit. There may be rules about what kind of content is accepted, how to behave on the subreddit, and specific types of posts that don't belong – something that can get a bit confusing, especially with so many subreddits. For example, the /r/technology rules tell us the subreddit doesn't accept posts that are just photos, and that anything related to fund raising for new technology should go on another subreddit, /r/Kickstarter.

Subreddits are looked after by moderators – redditors just like you who have volunteered to help out and make sure things run smoothly. They design the look of the subreddits, guide discussions, set the rules (normally after discussion with the redditors on the subreddit), and enforce the rules by deleting posts that don't follow them and, if necessary, by banning users.

Signing up for an account

If you're going to use Reddit in any serious way, you're going to want an account. Only redditors with accounts can:

  • upvote/downvote
  • make comments
  • submit posts
  • acquire karma
  • receive direct messages
  • create/moderate subreddits

But, most of all, having your own account means that you can customize what you see on the front page. By default, everyone sees the same top 20 subreddits on their front page – but redditors with accounts can subscribe to new subreddits and unsubscribe from the ones they don't like. Passionate about woodworking? Add /r/woodworking to your front page! Don't care about politics? Unsubscribe from /r/politics and never see it again! This means that everyone can have their very own customized version of the front page, tailored to their specific interests.

The account creating process is very simple. To create an account, go to the main page and click “login or register” at the top left. There you can make up a user name (how you'll be identified on reddit) and a password. You can also enter an email address, but it's optional.

If you're a new user, it's a good idea to check out the page on reddiquette (Reddit etiquette), a code of conduct that redditors are expected to follow. Most of the rules are common sense and apply to most of the internet, but it's still worth a look.

Submitting your first link

Submit button(123885)
When you find something you want to post to reddit, here's how you do it. Click the “Submit a link” button on the right-hand side of the page. (On some subreddit pages, the “Submit a link” button may be further down the page and may look a bit different than the one pictured here.)

Clicking the button will take you to this page:

Submit link

Think up a title for your submission (normally, simple and direct is better). Then, copy-and-paste the link's URL. Finally, choose a subreddit. Be sure to select an appropriate subreddit, and read the subreddit's rules before posting, to be sure your submission fits! If you don't, your post won't be seen by the right people, and it may be deleted by moderators. Then, click the submit button at the bottom, and you're done!


It's also possible to make a self-post, which is a post that's only a discussion with no outside link. This is useful if you have a question you want to ask, or an observation to make, or a story to tell. To create a self-post, click the text option near the top of the page.

That will take you to this screen:

Submit text

Like link posts, self-posts have a title. It's also possible to add a longer description (labelled as text), to add information to your title, but that's optional. Then, select the subreddit, and click the submit button at the bottom.

Then, wait and reap that sweet, useless karma!

More Reddit terminology

Some of the most popular subreddits have the most confusing names. There should be a description of every subreddit in its sidebar, but here are a few explanations of some of the common confusing subreddits:

  • /r/IamA: One of the most popular subreddits, /r/IamA is where celebrities, politicians, scientists, and anyone who might have something interesting to say can go to be asked questions by redditors. People posting IamA's will either say AMA (Ask Me Anything) or AMAA (Ask Me Almost Anything), if there are sensitive areas they want to avoid. Famous past IamA's have included US President Barack Obama, the engineers of the Curiosity Mars Rover, Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings, comedian Louis CK, and “Gangam Style” singer Psy.
  • /r/TIL (Today I Learned): Another very popular subreddit, users on /r/TIL post interesting random facts.
  • /r/ELI5 (Explain Like I'm Five): A subreddit devoted to simple explanations of complex issues – the types of explanations that would be understood by a five-year-old.

Here are some more terms that will show up from time to time in posts and comments, that you might want to know:

  • repost: when someone posts something that has already been posted to Reddit before. Redditors will often get quite irate about reposts, since they don't add anything new to reddit. Before submitting a link, it's a very good idea to use Reddit's search to find out if it's already been posted before. To avoid this, redditors will sometimes specifically label their posts as OC, or original content.
  • memes: a term that generally refers to ideas that get passed along and transformed. On the internet, that often means pictures and in-jokes that get repeated over and over. Many subreddits love memes, and some hate them. Popular subreddits for memes include /r/AdviceAnimals, /r/fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu, and /r/lolcats/. Most memes are inside jokes, so don't be too worried if you don't get the joke at first.
  • NSFW (Not Safe For Work): refers to content that might be offensive to some people, including nudity, bad language, violence, etc. This is specifically to help out people who are redditing in public places where other people might see what they're looking at, such as redditing at work.
  • NSFL: (Not Safe For Life): less common than NSFW, but refers to content that might be extremely offensive to most people, including gore, extreme violence, and other gross things. Even if you're at home alone, many people try to avoid this stuff.
  • OP (Original Poster): used in comment sections to refer to the person who submitted the post that's being discussed.

Happy redditing!



Jan 13, 2013 6:11pm
Very nice article, man. The whole reddit thing can be pretty comlicated at first, but it a powerful social network.
Jan 14, 2013 2:15pm
Thanks for writing up this guide! I've always heard about Reddit and know so many people use it; but it seemed complicated, so I haven't fully gotten into it yet. I'll try it out again and hopefully I'll find out what all the hype is about.
Jan 14, 2013 7:11pm
Thanks so much. It can definitely be a bit intimidating at first, but there's some great stuff on there - wonderful, in-depth discussions; interesting news pieces; great advice; and many, many cat pictures. So very many cats...
Jan 15, 2013 7:53am
Good article, but what I still can't wrap my head around is the point of the site. Is it an article ranking site based on popularity or usefulness of the articles? I did check out the site and agree with GabePollock, there are a lot of cat pictures. I don't get the cats !! But definitely a good article on how to use Reddit. Nice work.
Jan 15, 2013 4:59pm
In the most general terms, Reddit is a place to share links and engage in discussions with other redditors.

Going beyond that, it really is hard to pin down the exact 'point' of Reddit, because the sub-reddit system means that different sections of Reddit have different points. So there are redidts that are for nothing more than posting silly pictures (r/funny, r/pics), but there are also areas for in-depth discussions of specific professions (r/freelance. r/photography), or for personal advice (r/health. r/SuicideWatch), or for sharing what you've done (r/art, r/somethingimade), or even for weirdly specific types of funny content (r/birdswitharms - I'm not even kidding on that one).

You're pretty much right on the nose about the ranking system. 'Karma' lets people sort through the massive, insane amounts of content. For example, looking at r/pics, which is one of the biggest subreddits, with over 3 million subscribers, has had 23 posts made in the last 5 minutes! And inevitably, that many posts means a lot of crap, and a few gems. Karma helps sort through that - and also turns Reddit into a bit of a game, with people trying to acquire as much karma as possible.
Jan 15, 2013 5:07pm
Excellent article I had no idea reddit even existed, well done.
Jan 19, 2013 1:59pm
Excellent tutorial on Reddit. You explained and illustrated info very concisely here. I'm impressed with the amount of traffic they have.
Apr 16, 2013 12:29pm
Reddit is pretty sweet for news and more. I just started using it to promote my sites and other articles that are cool to read. :)
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  1. "Statistics for Secret Santa 2011." Reddit.com. 14/12/2012 <Web >
  2. "About Reddit." Reddit.com. 12/12/2012. 14/12/2012 <Web >
  3. "Reddit." Wikipedia. 14/12/2012. 14/12/2012 <Web >
  4. Franzen, Carl "Reddit Bans ‘Sexual Content Featuring Minors’." Talking Points Memo Idea Lab. 13/02/2012. 14/12/2012 <Web >

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