Emerging Technology

BEST OF THE WEB: The biggest mistake Reddit ever made

Patrick Stafford /

Can a website be blamed for a case of mistaken identity?

Reddit has been well-known for controversy over the past few years. Allowing users to create forums of whatever topic of discussion they want – whether it be sexist, racist or downright criminal – has naturally ruffled feathers.

Of course, the flipside is true too. Reddit’s community has organised donations and rallied around positive causes, including protesting certain pieces of legislation.

But Reddit’s problems hit fever pitch earlier this year, when the website’s community wrongly identified a young man as the person behind the Boston bombing attacks. Based on two photos released from the FBI, Reddit identified one Sunil Tripathi, who had already been missing for a month, as the bomber.

A Twitter account tweeting out news from the hacking organisation Anonymous announced Tripathi’s name as the bomber too.

He wasn’t.

As The New York Times points out, Reddit played a crucial role during the bombings by providing real-time information on the ground. This perpetuated a sense that Reddit was ahead of the curve and traditional media networks. But it also imbued a sense of arrogance, that Reddit could do no wrong.

But Reddit has done wrong in identifying a missing person as a bomber – Tripathi’s family was harassed with phone calls and social media communications smearing his character.

Yet, as The New York Times points out, one can’t simply “blame Reddit”.

The reality is more complicated than that.

To blame Reddit is to pretend that the platform is the problem. A hive mind may have existed on Reddit during the early days when the community was small and self-selecting, but now that traffic has reached 70 million visitors a month, asking “Reddit,” whatever that might mean, to police its own news content seems to misunderstand the problem.

This is what media is now, a constantly evolving interaction between reporters working for mainstream companies; journalists and writers compiling and interpreting news for online outlets; and thousands of individuals participating on their own in the gathering and assembling and disseminating of information.

Do androids dream of taking your dinner reservations?

One of the most frustrating things about bidding on eBay is the bots – computers automatically running to swoop in at the last minute and win an item, leaving you no chance to respond.

Now, it seems, the same thing is happening with restaurants.

Over at Buzzfeed there’s a piece examining this very trend within the hospitality industry – and someone who’s trying to change it.

Diogo Monica first noticed new reservations at his favourite restaurant, Stave Bird Provisions, would be gone within an hour. And he quickly realised something:

Humans weren’t making these reservations.

Who exactly was running these bots was unclear, but Mónica quickly put together a reservation bot of his own. Asked if he knew anyone else who was using one, he responded: “Every single engineer in SF that is also a foodie. Starting [with] my co-workers here at Square.”

As it turns out, this is something of a trend. An entire website, Hacker Table, takes hard-to-get reservations from restaurants and makes them available online.

The consequence of all this is that restaurant reservations are becoming exactly like high-frequency financial trades.

But it’s not something restaurants may want.

The consequences for restaurants are more complicated: Either way, they’re seating the same number of tables. But it changes their clientele and, by extension, how the city regards them. If hackers are fighting over your reservations, all your reservations will go to hackers.

The smartest apps in the world

Applications are becoming more powerful, all the time. So powerful that apps are now trying to predict whatever it is you want next.

This isn’t exactly new. Google has been doing it for years. But a piece over at The New York Times examines this new trend, which is attempting to make technology your very best friend.

Many technologists agree that these services will probably become mainstream, eventually incorporated in alarm clocks, refrigerators and bathroom mirrors.

Already, an app called Google Now is an important part of Google’s Internet-connected glasses. As a Glass wearer walks through the airport, her hands full of luggage, it could show her an alert that her flight is delayed.

Scary or useful? Read and decide for yourself.

Advertisement
Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

We Recommend

FROM AROUND THE WEB