“Blame is the coward’s way of trying to avoid responsibility for their own failure!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
There’s a bit of a mess over on Reddit today.
It’s a popular social networking site that today has ‘gone dark’ – i.e. millions of its users are protesting – and much of the current problem is the fault of the CEO – and his inability to take responsibility for his unforced errors. At least, that’s my read.
What’s up? To summarize the situation – and I run the risk of getting some details wrong:
- Reddit plans to go public via an IPO, so there has been the usual focus on profit as of late (i.e. it’s not currently)
- it’s a community-oriented site, so most topic areas (known as subreddits) are run and supported by a volunteer or group of volunteers
- the information on Reddit has been ‘scraped up’ by the engines of discovery that pull in information that becomes the basis for a lot of today’s fast-moving AI systems, such asChatGPT
- this does cause a resource drain for the company, as well as questions over its ‘ownership of information
- to counter that, the CEO put in place a very significant fee for the use of its API – that’s the ‘code’ and ‘standards’ by which third parties can use their own systems to interact with the information
- this code is used, for example, by small companies that write iPhone or Android software to access the service
- this new API fee will have the intended impact, in that ChatGPT and other systems might no longer ‘scrape’ the data
- but it also hits (hard) those who have developed 3rd party software for it, such as the popular iPhone client Apollo for Reddit
- the impact of this change (‘charging for use of its API’) would cost that one company some $20 million a month alone – clearly something not within the economic reality horizon for such a small company
- the community – members and volunteer administrators – began to protest the change, noting the short timeline for implementation (30 days) as well as the excessive fee
- trying to calm things down, the CEO interacted with the community through what is known as an ‘AMA’ – ‘ask me anything‘ – session
- it did not go well – he took a combative and dismissive tone, blaming these very software developers for the problem
- in fact, it went so poorly that many of the subreddits today have ‘gone dark,’ i.e. they are no longer accessible – as a form of protest.
- it’s unknown how long they will remain ‘dark’
- this, of course, is somewhat ruining the chance for the company to go public – after all, who would want to invest in a company whose very customers are in the middle of a very public, very effective, and very untenable protest?
- so, oops!
One popular comment making the rounds was the CEO must have seen how badly Elon Musks’ battle against third-party developers had gone and tried to do even worse!
Here’s the backstory:
Thousands of subreddits to become ‘private’ after plans to charge other companies for access to data
Some of the largest communities on Reddit will lock their doors in protest at the social news site’s decision to try to monetise access to its data.
More than 3,000 subreddits have joined the protest, and will go “private” on Monday, preventing anyone outside the community from seeing their posts.
Forums such as r/todayilearned, r/funny and r/gaming, with more than 30 million subscribers apiece, have signed up to join the campaign, while others with 1 million plus members, including r/iPhone and r/unexpected, have already closed their doors in anticipation of the strike.
The protest is over a set of forthcoming changes to the site’s “API”, which lets other companies use reddit data in their own products and services.
The changes will introduce huge charges for “premium access”, effectively killing off popular third-party Reddit apps such as Apollo, which lets users browse the site with a customisable interface.
Such apps would need to charge about $5 (£4) a user each month simply to pay the new fees to Reddit, Apollo’s sole developer, Christian Selig, has estimated.
Reddit communities to ‘go dark’ in protest over third-party app charges
11 June 2023, The Guardian
Let’s just say, the community was outraged by his response, and his attempt to blame the 3rd party software developers for all the problems.
Drama soon filled the thread after a Redditor asked Huffman about the claim that the CEO told site moderators that Apollo developer Christian Selig had “threatened us.” For context, Selig was one of the first third-party developers to speak publicly about the API changes, highlighting that the new pricing would cost him $20 million per year to continue operating the extremely popular Apollo app. In response, Huffman accused Selig of “operating inefficiently and not being a good API user,” according to TechCrunch.
Huffman received criticism from Redditors in the thread for his handling of the previous situation with Selig and the Apollo app. Huffman then accused Selig of inconsistent communication and extortion.
Selig’s interpretation of the situation is that during a call with Huffman, he jokingly suggested that if operating Apollo were to cost him $20 million, “Reddit should cut him a check to put an end to the app.” This isn’t an unprecedented move, since in 2014 Reddit acquired an old Reddit client called Alien Blue. Selig clarified during that recorded phone call that it was “mostly a joke.”
This interaction between Huffman and Selig is what created the most backlash from the AMA with many Redditors across the site coming to the defense of the Apollo developer.
Reddit’s CEO’s AMA turns into disaster
10 June 2023, Mashable.com
The headline might not mean much, but let’s just say – his approach to the issue made the situation worse. Much worse.
What’s the lesson in all this? Buried within all the drama is the classic CEO mistake of arrogance and blame – blaming others for a problem, and then digging in once things start to go wrong. I covered a lot of this in my analysis of the leadership traits of Elon Musk in my article about CEO hubris – read it here: https://hubris.jimcarroll.com
As I’ve watched this situation unfold, I’ve been reminded of all the times in which I’ve seen executives blame others for various problems, refusing to take ownership for letting the problem get out of hand in the first place. It seems to be a common trait for people to dig in, refuses to back down, and in their ham-fisted attempts to make things better, end up making things worse.
Here’s the thing about blame. Don’t do it.
When it comes to failure: own it. Don’t blame others.
Take responsibility for it.
Accept that you screwed up. Not others. You.
Don’t hide from it.
Don’t point fingers at anyone other than yourself.
Take ownership of it.
No one denies that the CEO had every right to try to fix the problem that exists with AI – but when his attempts to fix that had the unintended impacting of messing up the business fundamentals of other parties – he refused to accept that he did things wrong.
Take the blame.
Because otherwise, the blame will own you.