There are places on reddit that you might never discover. Though we’re all familiar with the main pages, there are countless subreddits—niche interests hiding a sub-URL away from plain sight. So while you could be the biggest fan of watching pus drain (reddit.com/r/popping for those with a strong stomach), you might never actually discover the like-minded community just waiting for you by visiting reddit.com/r/news.
In response, Randy Olson and MSU Assistant Professor Zachary Neal have created redditviz, a map of subreddits connected, not by the obvious related reddits you might spot on a sidebar, but actual reddit user behavior. For eight months, their algorithm tracked where users posted across the network. And given enough of a trend—say, 1,000 people regularly posted to both r/diablo and r/starcraft—the team made a connection between those subreddits on their map.
"When I first visualized the reddit network (as you see it now), I couldn't believe all of the communities I saw," Olson tells Co.Design. "Dubstep, college football, Neil deGrasse Tyson, thoughtful news articles, weird fetish porn—you name it, there's a reddit community built around it."
The current version of redditviz is a collection of dots that’s super simple to explore. You just search for an interest, and the site zooms into that subreddit and a web of its related subreddits. Typing "trains," I discovered connections to r/modeltrains, r/transit, and the inevitable r/trainporn (which used the term "porn" in a far more liberal manner than I’d given reddit credit for—kudos, redditors).
Redditviz stemmed from Olson’s own frustrations with discovering like-minded pockets on reddit. And as he and Neal make their research data public in the future, it will be interesting to see if and how others choose to turn the data into actionable tools. This visualization doesn’t need to be a web of clusters to promote discovery, after all, it could just as easily be a search box that brings up text results just like Google, or a Pinterest-style view of related reddits through images. But at heart, Olson wants redditviz to be a bit more than just a tool; he wants this web of interconnected clubs to change the way redditors view themselves.
"Reddit isn't a single, homogeneous entity, like news articles often portray it as," Olson writes. "The reddit community is composed of a massive and diverse group of people that are brought together by thousands of seemingly-unrelated interests."