Any Redditor knows that the best thing about Reddit is bearing witness to the strange and occasionally brilliant stuff that the community itself comes up with — and the company is well aware of that too.
Reddit is announcing today that it will open up a waitlist for developers who want to build software for the platform using a new toolkit from the company. The company plans to pair the new toolkit with a directory of third-party software extensions that moderators and Redditors alike can browse from to craft a custom Reddit experience.
The new portal will offer tools and other resources to empower developers to build software extensions to enhance the social network’s existing experience. Many well-loved tools by third-party developers are already ubiquitous on the platform, running unobtrusively in the background of subreddits and popping up to automatically paste the text of tweets, translate a post into a different language or send users timed reminders when prompted.
“As we allow more UI customization, we expect redditors and moderators to customize their communities to match their unique needs and tastes,” Reddit Chief Product Officer Pali Bhat told TechCrunch.
Beyond providing useful perks that make using Reddit more convenient, extensions can provide some essential utility too. Some bots already boost accessibility for visually-impaired users and offer moderators a more comprehensive set of tools for keeping communities safe and abiding by the rules. Others are more whimsical, like the infamous Yoda bots that invert comments into Yoda-like syntax — or less whimsical, in the case of Reddit’s rampant spellcheck bots that ping users for misspelled words.
Reddit will open the waitlist for the beta of its developer platform today and anyone can sign up to gain access to the new toolkit, which includes a studio for creating and testing automated tools on desktop. The company plans for the size of the developer portal beta to stay modest at first and plans to learn from what it observes, keeping safety in mind as it goes. The new portal for custom Reddit software will open up to everyone sometime next year.
“We’re going to work on a number of experiments, mainly in the categories of “apps” and “automation tools'” where apps can integrate directly with Reddit’s UI, and automation tools are more like traditional bots,” Bhat told TechCrunch. “… Initially, this will start small, but we want to give developers a lot of flexibility and scope over time.”
With the developer portal, Reddit wants to help break developers out of the silos they’re stuck in now. The company notes that devs get by as is with “limited resources and ad-hoc support” while creating bespoke tools for the communities they know. With the new developer platform beta, Reddit wants to offer them not only more tools to build with but a centralized space to share resources and collect what they wind up making.
Reddit also knows that different communities want flexible and personalized ways of interacting depending on their specific norms. Adding more support for third-party developers will make it easier for moderators and users alike to customize their experiences on the mostly text-based social network.
“Our vision is to have a portal where users and moderators can choose which tools they want to use for their communities that will make users’ experiences simpler and more meaningful,” Bhat told TechCrunch.
Beyond encouraging its community to build more bots, Reddit is making other investments in automation. In June, the company announced that it would buy Spell, a platform for running machine learning experiments that would otherwise be prohibitively resource-intensive. The following month, Reddit announced plans to acquire MeaningCloud, a natural language processing company. Those acquisitions will blend into Reddit’s existing systems, including personalized recommendations, discovery, advertising and safety.