Entrepreneurs Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman famously founded Reddit as college roommates in 2005. Tech journalist Christine Lagorio-Chafkin’s recent book, We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory, follows their sometimes rocky relationship as Reddit grew from a simple, user-directed front page for the Internet, to a scandal-rocked dominating force in online culture.
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As the subtitle implies, the site has been at the forefront of issues like the limits of free speech, privacy policies, and the unfettered spread of misinformation or “fake news,” grappling with those thorny matters well before social media giants Facebook and Twitter took notice. In a sense, Reddit is the “id” of the Internet, and that’s what has long fascinated Lagorio-Chafkin. “My friends thought I was nuts talking to these guys who happened into the idea for Reddit,” she said. “It had the reputation of being sort of a cesspool, and I wanted to know just how it got there.”
So she started meeting regularly with Ohanian at a Brooklyn cafe and he told her about the early days when Reddit was still in its infancy. It was a tough summer, personally: his mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, his childhood dog had died, and his girlfriend at the time suffered a nasty fifth story fall. Yet he still threw himself into promoting what Lagorio-Chafkin dubs “a little scrappy site—I mean, they barely had a product.” She was equally impressed with Huffman, and knew he, too, would make a great subject.