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<nettime> NYT > Mike Isaac > Building a kinder, and gentler, version of Reddit


< http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/09/technology/imzy-is-a-kinder-gentler-reddit-if-it-can-stay-that-way.html >

Imzy Is a Kinder, Gentler Reddit. If It Can Stay That Way.

By MIKE ISAAC

JUNE 8, 2016

For much of his life, Dan McComas has worked to foster community.

He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area's punk music scene, where he 
built a community for youths with 924 Gilman Street, an all-ages punk 
club and co-op. He was early in supporting the local, 
neighborhood-driven newspaper, The Bay Citizen (now defunct). He ran a 
marketplace start-up, called Redditgifts, which let online friends buy 
and sell gifts for one another; it was later acquired by Reddit, the 
online message board.

But Mr. McComas, who was let go by Reddit last July and moved to Salt 
Lake City, has not found his ideal online community, one where abuse 
does not run rampant and where people can coexist and remain shielded 
from online misconduct.

"I loved some of the community aspects of Reddit, but what I didn't love 
was all of the strife that went on inside, and outside, of the company," 
said Mr. McComas, 41. "We had serious problems with harassment."

So Mr. McComas decided to try building a different kind of online 
community with Imzy, a community site he founded last September, where 
people can form groups around shared interests and host discussions 
about anything from feminism to "Game of Thrones." From the start, the 
goal was to get right the areas he believes Reddit got wrong — 
specifically, by ending the consistent abuse and trolling across 
Reddit's many subcultures.

Imzy is one attempt to tackle the problems created by anonymity and 
community on the internet, a powerful set of dynamics that many 
entrepreneurs have tried to take on before — often unsuccessfully. While 
anonymity and pseudonymity can spur swift growth at fledgling sites, 
they also create breeding grounds for vitriol-spewing trolls that have 
made many online environments toxic.

The toll has been heavy. Start-ups like Secret, YikYak and Ask.fm, which 
offered users anonymity while messaging and communicating, grew quickly. 
But they found it difficult to curb harassment and nurture long-term 
communities. Secret was shuttered last year; YikYak has struggled with 
how to deal with abuse on the platform.

"I asked myself why this was happening," Mr. McComas said, noting the 
threats of physical violence and verbal abuse that he and his wife, both 
former Reddit employees, encountered on the site. "Is this just the 
internet? Are people just bad like this?"
Continue reading the main story

The idea behind Imzy owes much to what Reddit did well, which was to 
build communities that grow up organically around certain topics. More 
than 230 million people visit Reddit regularly each month, and an 
average visit lasts more than 13 minutes. Reddit has had an open 
approach to free speech — nearly anything goes — and people participate 
in long, threaded message board discussions, many of which are entirely 
text-based and consist of thousands of individual comments.

What Mr. McComas and others found was that certain subjects on Reddit, 
such as politics, feminism or discussions of race, would almost always 
attract trolling commenters. That made it difficult for people to feel 
that Reddit was a positive place for hashing out ideas and having 
conversations.

Imzy tries to combat some of those issues through the site's 
architecture. When someone signs up, they are directed to pick a few 
specific communities they want to join. That's different from Reddit's 
"front page," which displays a smattering of different popular subforums 
to new users.

The idea, Mr. McComas said, is that the core, devoted members of a group 
are often not the ones who make a community toxic, but rather the 
passers-by who may stumble upon a new community and leave disparaging 
remarks.

Imzy users are also allowed to select only one username in each 
community they join, to keep trolls from creating multiple identities 
with which they can harass others. Individual moderators self-govern 
their communities, based on rules of their own making, giving each 
community the flexibility to set its own terms about what is and is not 
permissible. Other conventions, like chatting in threads and posting 
images, are much the same as predecessor sites.

"We're building this way because we want people to find and join 
communities that they have a real connection to, and these are really 
our first measures to address the problems in the way of getting there," 
Mr. McComas said.

He is also expanding Imzy slowly — people need an invitation to 
participate, and users can invite only a handful of others once they 
have joined. Imzy has partnered with other culture groups and 
celebrities, including the "Girls" creator Lena Dunham, to bring their 
own internet fan bases to the platform.

"Everyone becomes their Mr. Hyde selves on the internet," said Shawn 
Kittelsen, creative director of Feral Audio, a podcast network that is 
working closely with Imzy to start an online community for its 
listeners. "The bottom line is, do you have a system to help manage the 
bad eggs so that they don't ruin the experience for everyone else?"

Imzy has a hard road ahead before reaching the mainstream. The site 
hosts 15,000 users, and 20,000 more are on the waiting list, a paltry 
number compared with the hundreds of millions of users who visit Reddit 
and other competing sites.

For revenue, Imzy does not rely on advertising. The start-up will 
function partly on "tips" from users, who can also donate money to 
support their individual communities. The start-up will eventually open 
up its developer platform — which programmers can use to build new 
features into their community — and that could become its future 
business model. Imzy, based in Salt Lake City, has raised $3 million 
from investors including Charles River Ventures and O'Reilly AlphaTech 
Ventures.

Gina Bianchini, chief executive of the online community platform 
Mightybell and co-founder of Ning, another community site, is skeptical 
about whether Imzy will take off.

"This is a classic situation where someone thinks that the thing that 
worked in 2006 will work in 2016 if they clean up the design and make it 
‘nicer,'" she said. "Over a decade later and there is no Reddit-killer. 
There's a reason for that."

Imzy is not the only one trying to root out hostility and trolling in 
its online community. Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter, has vowed 
to make curbing harassment on the network a top priority. And since Mr. 
McComas left Reddit in July (because of differences about how the site 
should be run), the company has begun introducing tools that let users 
block abusive members and enacted a new set of rules that prohibits 
posting items that "violate a common sense of decency."

Reddit declined to comment on the terms of Mr. McComas's departure.

"The value of Reddit is an experience that shows the real discussions 
that people are having on almost every imaginable topic," Alexis 
Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, said in a statement. "As with any large, 
dynamic, community platform of engaged users expressing themselves, we 
are bound to see the spectrum of public opinion, from extreme views to 
everyday acts of kindness and humanity."

Imzy's supporters know Mr. McComas's ambitions are high. But they see 
the company's business model, which is not reliant on advertising, as a 
potential strength.

"We see an opportunity for a new media platform to be created that 
enables moderators to make a living on the platform," said Saar Gur, a 
partner at Charles River Ventures and an Imzy investor. "We haven't seen 
anyone yet build a community platform that truly is a platform with a 
developer community."

If Imzy does indeed become large enough to be the next Reddit, Mr. 
McComas said it would have a greater chance at success because he is 
tackling cultural problems head on, rather than further down the line.

"That's where things went wrong for Reddit," he said. "It didn't get its 
start by really thinking about the community. You have to focus on all 
of this from the beginning."

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