Reddit Is Big, Growing, and (Maybe) Turning Ever-More Inward

A new report claims the site just doesn't refer traffic like it used to.

Over 2013, referrals from Reddit to other websites declined, according to a new study. (Shareaholic)

Is Reddit declining as a clearinghouse for global Internet attention?

A new report says: Yes and no.

According to a study released today by the social media tracking company Shareaholic, traffic to Reddit has never been better. The site logged some 731 million unique visitors in 2013, while it “only” had 400 million in 2012. It served 56 billion pageviews in 2013, where it had merely 37 billion in 2012.

To be clear: Traffic—and traffic gains—like those are enormous.

“Effectively, in 2013, Reddit saw a 51 percent increase in pageviews and an 83 percent increase in uniques year-over-year,” writes Shareaholic’s Danny Wong. “That’s HUGE, right?”

It is huge. But it is coupled to a stranger statistic, one which the graph above concerns. According to Shareaholic, across 2013, Reddit’s referrals to other websites fell substantially.

“Reddit’s share of overall visits to websites [in the Shareaholic network] dropped 35.96 percent year-over-year,” writes Wong. “During December 2012, sites saw 0.33 percent of their overall traffic come from Reddit.”

By last month, only 0.21 percent of those site’s traffic came from Reddit.

Shareaholic’s statistics indicate a changing role for Reddit: The site is perhaps becoming more of an object of sustained attention, and less of a interesting-link clearinghouse. (Reddit darlings like image-sharing site Imgur, meanwhile, now boast their own communities—Imgur’s is now larger than Reddit.)

But how did Shareaholic arrive at their report? When we emailed a Reddit representative, he disputed Shareaholic’s conclusions.

“We block their tool because it's used by spammers so frequently,” Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, said in an email. “Their numbers need more salt than uncooked pork.”

Shareaholic says its report came not from its eponymous toolbar, but from its “diverse network of publishers.”

“Our findings are based on many months of data collected from our 200,000+ publishers who reach more than 250 million unique monthly visitors globally,” Wong wrote to me. “The data we track consists of ALL referrals coming into sites within the Shareaholic network, not just the ones that come through as a result of sharing through one of our tools.”

Wong pointed to how Facebook approvingly cited a different Shareaholic report, gathered by similar means, in November.

The ambiguity of recording and talking about just this possible trend points to the difficulty of talking about any traffic sources on the web. Unless, like Wikipedia, a site is completely open about its traffic data,  then all traffic releases online are vanity traffic releases. Internet-wide analytics firms like Alexa and Quantcast provide estimations, so we only hear about unique visitor counts in especially good months.

“Given the scale and reach of the network and data we're basing these findings on, we believe it to be representative of actual trends,” writes Wong. A Reddit like Wong predicts would indicate a Reddit privileging its exclusive, intriguing “Ask Me Anythings” over its libertarian-heavy politics forum… which is exactly what happened last summer.

As Facebook aims to become an “ideal newspaper,” in other words, Reddit is getting out the biz: Where it once offered a bazaar of links, now it embodies an a kind of earnest Internet town hall.