The 5 Kinds of Questions You Answer on AskReddit.

I never thought this day would come. For years now, I've chuckled at the naysayers who lamented that "Reddit has gone downhill". People have been saying that for about as long as I can remember, and I've been there for over four years. Sooner or later, though, I guess we all become what we hate, because here I am.

Reddit has gone downhill.

Maybe that's not even quite the right way to put it. It's more like Reddit has hit a plateau. From my perspective, it's tough to tell if it's actually changed or if it's always been like this and I'm tired of it now. Maybe it's because I've been there so long, but there's just nothing new anymore. There's only a few basic kinds of posts. I'm talking about /r/AskReddit specifically, which has been my favorite subreddit by far since its inception. I've long since unsubscribed from /r/ and most of the larger subreddits. With a few exceptions, most of the other subreddits are only occasionally interesting. I've always been a proponent of the "If you don't like it, downvote and/or hide it" philosophy, but with 90% of the posts falling into one of a few categories that create the same predictable responses every time, I'm left with no option but to remove myself entirely. One man downvoting can only do so much, and it's become clear that my own tastes are no longer in sync with the AskReddit community. To save you some time, here's a summary of what you'll find on AskReddit, every day, for the foreseeable future.

  1. The question that's not really a question. This really belongs in the rants and raves section of Craigslist, or maybe your livejournal. As an example Why does my cat insist on throwing up on the carpet with a perfectly good wooden floor available?. I don't mean to pick on you, guy who submitted this, but you know perfectly well why your cat throws up on the carpet. It's because it's a cat and it throws up wherever it happens to be when it feels like throwing up. This is not a thought-provoking or inspired question, it's some dude bitching about his pet. Again, I don't mean to single this post out. If you look at the front page, about 25% of the submissions are like this. I include in this all variants of "Does Anyone Else". These are not questions. They are not discussions. They are pleas for affirmation and attention and they are tedious. I don't want to ramble on about this too much, as it could easily be a post unto itself.

  2. The "What's your favorite X" question and its partner "What's your least favorite X", one of these usually following the other. Here X is most often some form of media such as movies, TV shows, books, video games, music, or occasionally quotes. Sometimes they are phrased creatively, like "Which 3 books would you take to a desert island?" or "If you could only pick one song to represent music, what would it be?". It doesn't matter. It's the same list every time, practically one of them every day. It's this more than anything that leads me to suspect that Reddit's voting system is fundamentally broken. Maybe it's just that there's so many people now and new ones are arriving at such a rate, that every time there's a new incarnation of one of these there's a whole new voting block that hasn't seen all the previous versions ready to vote it to the front page. Then again, maybe it's the same block of people who want to make really, really, really sure that we all know we should watch Firefly and Arrested Development and read Catch-22.

  3. The advice seeker. There's a few flavors of this post and few, if any, of them are worth reading. A short summary includes:

a. The person who clearly needs professional medical/legal/financial advice, but has decided to ask Reddit instead.
b. The person who has already decided what to do, but wants several hundred people to parrot the answer back to him/her.
c. The person who wants someone to type out the first result in Google for them.
d. The person who has decided to entrust a major life decision to a bunch of anonymous strangers. (often b in disguise)

This is a pretty broad category, so the questions vary widely in the amount interesting discussion the generate. As with any discussion, even a relatively boring question sometimes derails into an interesting thread. As a general rule, the more unusual the situation, the more interesting the discussion tends to be. More often than not, however, these tend to have one obvious answer that quickly gets voted to the stop, and several hundred other comments that rephrase it.
  1. The hypothetical. This is another broad category. In fact, with the infinite possibilities hypothetical questions offer, it should be the most interesting. But usually the same few questions are endlessly repeated like "If you had three wishes what would they be?", "What would you do with (some large amount of money)?", "What super-power would you want?". Other times these can be just thinly veiled attempts to get the hivemind to reiterate its political opinions: "If you could tell every person in the world one thing, what would it be?", "Conservatives: Why are you like that???".

    With a little imagination, these can sometimes be great, such as my favorite AskReddit question of all time, but the common ones tend to have predictable answers, and the political ones quickly devolve into the usual echo chamber.

  2. Story time. These at least generate new content each time, even if they are the same topics like "What are your worst/best work stories?" (sometimes one profession specifically); worst/best relationship stories; grossest, awesomest thing that's ever happened to you; biggest coincidence you've ever experienced, and so on. This is one place where the largeness of the community works in its favor. It's pretty unlikely you'll see the same stories retold when the threads resurface. Even though these aren't very thought provoking, or inspired, this is where AskReddit provides most of its entertainment (for me, anyway).

Obviously, this isn't a comprehensive list. It isn't meant to be. Feel free to enumerate other types you've observed in the comments below. There are always outliers that don't fall into any category and these are often great, fitting with the spirit of "thought-provoking, interesting questions" that AskReddit is supposed to be all about. It just seems that lately these have been fewer and farther between, and the Internet is a poorer place for it.

Originally published 2011-05-06 12:01:19