Reddit, the popular discussion platform, experienced a substantial outage on Monday due to a protest by the site’s communities against new fees imposed on developers for accessing the site’s data. The latest fallout in the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman refused to allow companies that build AI chatbots like ChatGPT to have free access to the site to perfect their large-language models. AI companies use APIs, or application programming interfaces, to build their own versions or have access to the data of another platform. Through APIs, OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Google’s Bard utilize massive amounts of data from sites such as Reddit to refine the human-like content they churn out with impressive results.
Protest and Fallout
As a result of the new fees for accessing Reddit data, these usages will become too expensive for many third-party apps, triggering the protest. On Monday, more than 45,000 outages were reported on the Downdetector website, with Reddit struggling to cope with the unprecedented shutdowns. Many of the site’s biggest communities, known as subreddits, were expected to remain private for 48 hours as part of the protest, including r/Music, r/funny, r/gadgets, and r/todayilearned, each of which has millions of followers. Moderators of these chat rooms shut them down, causing the entire site to sputter badly for a few hours. According to a group supporting the protest on the site Twitch, more than 7,000 groups had gone dark to oppose Reddit’s new fees.
Reddit’s API is also used by members of its vast online community that have built their own apps to access the platform. Therefore, the new fees for accessing Reddit data will become too expensive for many third-party apps, causing a backlash. Elon Musk-owned Twitter has also stopped allowing developers and third-party websites to access the platform’s API for free, in an effort to boost revenues at the struggling business. “Reddit needs to be a self-sustaining business, and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require large-scale data use,” Huffman wrote in a Reddit post on Friday.
Later on Monday, Reddit posted that the site was “observing improvements across the site and expect issue to recover for most users.” Huffman also clarified in a statement that the new API rules would not apply to all third-party developers. Instead, Reddit would assess each case on an individual basis and work with developers to create agreements that suit both parties.
Reddit’s recent outage highlights the increasing tension between companies and developers over access to data. While Reddit is looking to create a self-sustaining business model, developers and third-party apps are struggling with the new fees for accessing the site’s data. It remains to be seen how this conflict will be resolved, but it is clear that the AI revolution is creating new challenges for companies that rely on user-generated data.