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Reddit’s API War: How a Billion-Dollar Company is Killing its Best Apps

If you are a fan of Reddit, you may have noticed that some of your favorite third-party apps are shutting down or announcing their imminent demise.

Reddit’s API War: How a Billion-Dollar Company is Killing its Best Apps

In this article, we will explain the background and details of this drama, and what it means for the future of Reddit and its community.

What is an API and why does it matter?

An API, or application programming interface, is a set of rules and protocols that allow different software applications to communicate and exchange data with each other.

For example, when you use a third-party app like Apollo to browse Reddit, the app sends requests to Reddit's API to fetch posts, comments, votes, messages, etc., and then displays them in a user-friendly interface on your device. The API also allows the app to send data back to Reddit, such as when you upvote a post, reply to a comment, or create a new post.

What is an API and why does it matter?

APIs are essential for creating diverse and innovative applications that can leverage the data and functionality of existing platforms. However, APIs also come with costs and limitations. The platform that provides the API has to maintain servers, bandwidth, security, and updates to handle the requests from the apps.

The platform also has to ensure that the apps using its API are following its terms of service, policies, and guidelines. Therefore, the platform may charge fees or impose quotas or restrictions on the apps that use its API.

What did Reddit change and why?

On May 25th, 2023, Reddit announced that it was revising its API pricing model effective from July 1st, 2023. The new model would charge app developers based on the number of requests they make to the API per month. The first 10 million requests would be free, but after that, each additional request would cost $0.002. This means that if an app makes 20 million requests in a month, it would have to pay $20,000 to Reddit.

Reddit API pricing model

Reddit explained that this change was necessary to cover the costs of providing the API service and to ensure its quality and reliability. Reddit also claimed that this change would only affect a small number of apps that were making excessive or inefficient requests to the API. Reddit said that it had contacted these app developers in advance and offered them assistance and guidance on optimizing their apps and reducing their API usage.

How did Apollo and other apps react?

However, many app developers were not happy with this change and felt that it was unfair and unreasonable. They argued that Reddit was effectively pricing them out of business and forcing them to shut down their apps or pass on the costs to their users. They also said that Reddit had not given them enough support to make the necessary app changes.

Reddit vs Apollo

One of the most vocal critics was Christian Selig, the developer of Apollo. He posted a detailed explanation on his subreddit r/apolloapp about how this change would affect his app and his livelihood. He said that Apollo was making about 30 million requests per month on average, which would cost him $40,000 per month under the new model.

He said that this was far more than what he was earning from his app through ads and subscriptions. He also said that he had not received any communication from Reddit about this change until May 25th, when he received an email informing him about it.

Selig said that he had tried to optimize his app as much as possible over the years, but there were some limitations imposed by Reddit's API design and features that prevented him from reducing his requests further. He also said that he had tried to contact Reddit several times to discuss this issue and seek a solution, but he had not received any help from them.

Selig said that he had no choice but to shut down Apollo by June 30th unless Reddit changed its mind or offered him a reasonable alternative. He also said that he loved working on Apollo, but he could not afford to lose money every month for doing so.

Selig's post received a lot of support and sympathy from his users and other app developers who were facing similar problems. Many other third-party apps announced their plans to shut down or limit their functionality due to Reddit's API change. Some examples are Sync, RIF, Reddplant, Boost for Reddit, Slide for Reddit, Joey for Reddit, etc.

How did Reddit's CEO respond?

Reddit's co-founder and CEO, Steve Huffman, aka u/spez, decided to address this issue and answer some questions from the community in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on June 9th, 2023. However, instead of offering an apology or a compromise, he doubled down on his accusations against Selig and other app developers. He said that Reddit's API change was fair and reasonable and that it only affected a small number of apps that were making inefficient or excessive requests to the API. He said that Reddit had contacted these app developers in advance and offered them help and guidance on optimizing their apps and reducing their API usage.

Huffman also singled out Selig and accused him of extortion and blackmail. He said that Selig had threatened to shut down Apollo unless Reddit paid him $20 million per year. He said that this was unacceptable and unethical behavior and that he could not see Reddit working with Selig in the future.

Huffman's AMA was met with a lot of criticism and backlash from the Reddit community. Many users accused him of being dishonest, arrogant, and disrespectful. They said that he was ignoring the facts and evidence presented by Selig and other app developers and that he was trying to discredit them and shift the blame. They also said that he was harming Reddit's reputation and alienating its users by forcing them to use the official app or the website, which many users found inferior or unsatisfactory.

What is the future outlook?

As of June 13th, 2023, there has been no resolution or change in the situation. Reddit's API change is still scheduled to take effect on July 1st, 2023, and many third-party apps are still preparing to shut down or limit their functionality by then. Selig has not received any response or offer from Reddit and has confirmed that Apollo's last day of operation will be June 30th, 2023.

The future outlook for Reddit and its community is uncertain and bleak. Many users are unhappy and frustrated with Reddit's decision and Huffman's attitude, and are considering leaving the platform or finding alternatives.

Many app developers are disappointed and discouraged by Reddit's lack of support and appreciation for their work and are losing their motivation or passion for creating apps for Reddit. Many observers are wondering if Reddit is making a strategic mistake or a fatal error by alienating its loyal and passionate users and developers.

Reddit may have some valid reasons for changing its API pricing model, but it may have also underestimated the impact and consequences of doing so. Reddit may have hoped to save some costs or improve some metrics by doing so, but it may have also lost some trust and goodwill from its community by doing so. Reddit may have tried to defend its decision or justify its actions by doing so, but it may have also damaged its reputation or credibility by doing so.

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