For the last year, Reddit has been beta-testing community-based chat rooms with a select number of users. Over time, the beta spread across various groups on the platform, and today, the internet’s largest forum hub made its efforts more public with a blog post explaining what it hopes to achieve with the feature.
“When we started, we knew that most people didn’t personally know other redditors, since the core of the Reddit experience is pseudonymous sharing and discussion,” wrote ityoclys, a Reddit product designer who has been taking chat room feedback from users over the past year. “So we wanted to make sure there was a place for people in the betas to test chat, give feedback, and have a bit of fun. Perhaps most importantly, we wanted to get to know people using chat and learn from them.”
Chats are opt-in for subreddits, meaning that every community doesn’t have one yet, but there are already rooms for everything from Game of Thrones to cats. (Here’s a full directory.) Like the rest of Reddit, chat rooms are minimalist, with much of the focus on the words shared by users. On the left is a list of rooms you’ve joined, and you can swap between them with a click. Every user starts with an avatar depicting Snoo — Reddit’s mascot — and currently, it doesn’t seem like those avatars can be changed. This lends the chat a certain air of anonymity, a quality Reddit values deeply.
I joined a number of chat rooms, and found that most of them weren’t that active — some barely had any chatter at all. More popular rooms had people shooting the shit, sharing their lives and dreams, and joking. In the Fortnite chat, players talked about effective winning strategies, confessed their lack of skills, and spread memes (“just build lol”). Over on the weed chat room, guests talked about their favorite strains and gear, and expressed their excitement over smoking. One user even linked short face-cam videos where he appeared to be high. In the Casual Conversation room, users shared their ideas for books.
It all felt very wholesome, like the long-lost AOL days where people liked logging into random chat rooms to connect with strangers. The flip side is that vintage chat rooms had their problems, too. On Reddit, that’s currently manifesting through the usual problems that come with online anonymity: people being jerks, using the n-word, or spamming the room with things like The Bee Movie’s script. None of this will sound shocking to anyone who has spent a single second on the internet, of course, but it remains to be seen how closely communities will moderate their chat rooms, or what moderation tools will be made available.
Overall, Reddit’s chat rooms seem like a good way to experiment with vulnerability and openness, because people largely won’t know who you are — and probably don’t care. In the cat chat room, I asked people what kinds of songs they sang to their pets, revealing that my calico happens to have a dinnertime tune. Nobody responded. So it goes.
“The nature of real-time, direct chat seems to be especially disarming,” continues ityoclys, in Reddit’s summary of the chat experiment. “Even when people initially lash out in frustration or to troll, I found that if you talk to them and show them you’re a regular human like them, they almost always chill out.”
Chat will continue to roll out to new communities daily, and Reddit promises to continue to take feedback on the feature in an effort to improve it. Anyone using the chat has a contact called u/reddit_chat_feedback, a virtual chat “user” that serves as a feedback hotline.