Ellen Pao and Reddit

Ellen Pao has been the target of unyielding harassment over the past several months; from unhappy Redditors who didn’t like her policies, and from chauvinists who saw her as a “money-grabber”.

She’s probably read heaps of ugly words. I’m sure it was tough to miss the Hitler Photoshops. She’s been put on trial thousands of times, each sentence one-upping the last. No one should have to endure that.

I think Reddit board member Sam Altman said it best: “People are still people even if there is Internet between you.”

Ellen Pao is smart. You’d have to be to navigate that sludge. She’ll go somewhere else and be an outstanding CEO. Maybe she’ll create her own startup. She could be a great fit in a lot of places.

Was she a great fit for Reddit? No. And you’re allowed to hold that opinion without being part of the angry mob.

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Reddit is a strange beast. All websites are dependent on visitors. But not many are almost entirely run by their users. And not all users are as well-organized as they are on Reddit.

How many “boycott Facebook” posts have we seen? Anytime Facebook makes a controversial change, users get all riled up, swear they’re quitting… and then they continue using Facebook. Meanwhile, on Reddit, the executive team made a personnel decision the community didn’t like, and Reddit’s most heavily trafficked sections ceased to operate.

That is power. And it speaks to just how much Reddit is at the mercy of its users. Those users hold certain beliefs about how the site should be run, and they aren’t big on interference.

Just as you wouldn’t go into a relationship and try to dramatically change your significant other, the next person who leads Reddit has to accept it for what it is; a flawed community. The newest CEO is founder (and former CEO) Steve Huffman. He knows Reddit very well. He’s familiar with the site’s ideals. He could work out.

But it’s worth noting that Steve will have to answer to the same owners Ellen Pao did. Those owners answer to shareholders, and those shareholders want growth. That growth will have to come from change, and it’ll be up to Steve Huffman to walk the tightrope of introducing that change while keeping the community happy.

It won’t be easy. Ask Ellen Pao.

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