Everything You Need To Know About the Reddit API Changes

Everything You Need To Know About the Reddit API Changes

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During the week of June 11, 2023, major outages on Reddit were part of a protest taking place across over 9,000 subreddits, including some of the biggest on the site. The blackout was caused by an upcoming change to Reddit’s Terms of Service (ToS), outlining extensive changes to the Reddit API. The most impactful change is that Reddit’s starting to charge for API calls, which will effectively kill a number of third-party apps, some of which Reddit volunteer moderators — known as “mods” — rely on to run their boards.

The protest is proving to be contentious. Reddit’s CEO Steve Huffman has called the protest an overreach, comparing it to a power grab from the “landed gentry.” They’re claiming it’s a small portion of users who are taking issue with the changes, which are being implemented as some apps and tools use a disproportionate amount of data.

Everything You Need To Know About the Reddit API Changes

Huffman told The Verge that API calls from third-party apps have been costing the site almost $10 million in infrastructure costs alone. He clarified that developers creating accessibility apps would still have free API access. Other popular third-party apps like Apollo and Reddit is Fun will have to start paying for API access, as their traffic is far above the limit of the free tier.

Reddit first announced its plan for these changes on April 18. As part of that announcement, they revealed that the updated API terms and the developer terms will go into effect on June 19, 2023. The new API data policy will go into effect on July 1, 2023.

Reddit outage Subreddit example

If you tried to sign on to Reddit during the week of June 11, you might have come across a lock screen similar to this.

New Data API Terms

On July 1, the new terms dictate that apps that make less than 100 queries per minute per OAuth ID can still use the free tier. Apps with no OAuth registration are limited to 10 queries a minute. This accounts for more than 90% of Reddit apps.

Apps that exceed that rate will be charged $.24 per 1k API calls. This equates to around $1 USD per user per month. Some apps have announced that these charges will disrupt their existing business model and will be shuttering before the changes go into effect. The CEO of Apollo, one of the most popular third-party apps, revealed that the new API pricing would cost them roughly $12,000 each month. Some apps have announced that these charges will disrupt their existing business model and will be shuttering before the changes go into effect.

The new Data API terms will also place some restrictions on how explicit material is handled and displayed to try and find a workable solution for some of the more explicit subreddits and communities on the app.

How The API Changes Will Affect Mod Tools

The most commonly cited reason for the Reddit blackout is that these new restrictions will limit the power and effectiveness of mods, whose unpaid volunteer work keeps the site from becoming unusable. According to an official Reddit post, official mod apps like RES, ContextMod, or ToolBox won’t be affected.

The main risk facing mods is the potential shuttering of bots they rely on to do their job, most notably SafestBot, a bot that bans users who post on problematic subreddits, to all manner of spam detection bots. Reddit officials have stated that they’ll work directly with individual bot developers, but user reports indicate that support has been lacking if not downright antagonist, so far.

Reddit claims they are working on restoring access to Pushshift for approved moderators, though. Automated mod tools, like mod bots, will also continue to function.

Reddit is also working on launching a new developer’s platform to create new, native mod tools as an extension of the existing API and custom CSS features. The Reddit developer platform is currently available for closed beta testing (you can sign up here).

Final Thoughts On the Reddit API Changes

The changes to the Reddit Data API TOS are in keeping with other apps, namely Twitter, beginning to charge for API access. That could be a sign of the API industry maturing. Or, maybe it’s simply a case of CEOs getting greedy. One thing’s for sure: questions and concerns around API pricing aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Much of the frustration with Reddit monetizing their APi is a similar complaint to other major social media platforms. They get to their enormous size and influence via user-generated content and, in the case of Reddit, the unpaid labor of mods. Reddit’s still a business, though, in some capacity. They need to keep the lights on somehow. Just because many people post to the forums doesn’t mean they own the infrastructure that supports it.

Spending some time on Google this last week revealed another, even more important, aspect of Reddit — the power of common knowledge. Looking up anything from “the best simple chocolate cookie recipe” to “what is the social significance of Robert Alman?” can lead you to a Reddit thread. These can offer sprawling, extensive, authoritative commentary and advice on an often highly obscure subject. If you’ve done any research recently and encountered one of these frustrating tile screens, you’ve been given a taste of Reddit’s importance to the online ecosystem. We’ve also been given a sneak peek of the power that knowledge workers and moderators might potentially wield in a network society.

As of now, it doesn’t seem Reddit will bend. Reddit leadership has been wrestling with when was the right time for monetization for at least five years, and eventually, they’ve just got to decide and act. Huffman and associates seem to be taking the stance that the outrage is another common online phenomenon — a very loud outburst from a small minority. Only time will tell if the changes, charges, scuttled apps, and bad press make a difference or if it will just usher in a new era for the social network.