The thing about Reddit is, it's what I would consider to be the first place to find good content online-- "The Front Line Of The Internet," if you will-- and if you have even a basic working knowledge of its structure and particular vernacular, it can be your go-to resource for information. That is, if you can figure out what the heck is going on. So today, I would like to be your instruction manual, your spirit guide, your Indiana Jones-- to the amazing oddity that is Reddit. Down the rabbit hole we go...
1. Structure: Reddit is a site made of links to other things. It's really that simple. Every blue line on every page is a clickable link to something, and those somethings are: news articles, pictures, online videos (mainly YouTube), petitions, Wikipedia articles, memes (see below), and links to various other sites. There is the main page, which can be sorted by most popular posts, newest, most controversial, and featured. Along with the main page, there are an endless number of "Sub-Reddits," or pages that concern a particular topic-- cats, jokes, swimsuit models, politics, Christianity, science-- virtually any subject you can think of has its own Subreddit. You can find them by typing "/r/nameoftopic" into your Web browser's address bar after reddit.com. (Example: www.reddit.com/r/funny)
2. Upvoting/Downvoting: You may be wondering, with the millions of posts on all the various Subreddits, including the main page, how are they ordered? This is the genius of Reddit: it's a completely democratic system of voting-- the posts are ranked in order of popularity. If you like a post, or think others should see it, you click that little "up" arrow to the left of the link, and give it an "upvote." The opposite is also true: if you don't like a post for whatever reason; if it's offensive, a repeat of a previous post (Redditors are very loyal to original content), or just lame, you can click the "down" arrow to "downvote" it. This has an astonishing effect: the better or more important a post is, the more upvotes it gets (and vise versa), which then lands it higher and higher on the front page, so more people see it, who then upvote it, and the cycle goes on. The most popular posts get thousands and thousands of upvotes, and in turn are seen by everyone who visits the site (the first thing you see when you visit reddit.com is the top of the front page, which contains the most-upvoted posts). On the other hand, if a post gets a bunch of downvotes, it is rightly seen by almost no one and disappears quickly. Internet Justice.
3. Commenting: The real gold mine of Reddit isn't always in the posts themselves; there's always a section where you can comment on the post, and this is where your mind can really get blown. The Internet gives commenters a bad name: the picture that gets conjured up is one of an angry, anti-social and condescending "troll" who, thanks to online anonymity, spews out the most vile and hate-filled rants, designed to make you cry and find the closest therapist. Not so on Reddit. Those who comment on Reddit, in general, do so to: A) Fact-check what the post says, so everyone reading it doesn't get whipped into a frenzy for no reason; B) Give support to the poster, who may be looking for advice or someone with whom to share the pain or anger; C) Intelligently disagree, argue, or (when necessary) ridicule a post that is a hoax, inflammatory, or just mistaken. So do yourself a favor and click on the comments of, say, an apparently-juicy news article-- it may just re-instill your hope in an intelligent humankind.
4. All That Stuff You Don't Get: Listen, there are going be a lot of posts that you click on and just not understand at all. In fact, some days it may happen more often than not. I'm not going to try to explain in detail what all these pictures with words on top of them are, or what they're referencing. The short answer is they're called memes (see my Glossary for more information)-- they're basically an inside joke referencing something in popular culture, and the more you're exposed to them, the more you'll understand and get the joke. But if you don't, just move on to the next post. Because the stuff you'll actually care about probably won't be the memes; it'll be the breaking news, information on U.S. and world affairs that you won't find anywhere else, cries to action ("Occupy Wall Street" and the fight for online privacy were kindled on Reddit), and little-known facts that will amaze and delight you.
Well, you made it through! Now that you've graduated from Reddit 101, go forth and explore this strange new world. Be delighted, be outraged, be in-the-know, and if you're not careful, lose half a day clicking on links. Trust me, it's addicitve. Oh, and what about that whole cats thing? It's simple: People who spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet just really like cats. I mean, they're just so cute!