An annotated history of Reddit's growth in daily submissions

Here's submissions per day across all of Reddit (based on this awesome dataset). I looked up some of the more prominent spikes and annotated the ones I could find a plausible cause for.

Submissions per day timeline

1. server issues
The old Reddit back-end was struggling to keep up with an amount of traffic it was never designed for. Major changes were made and it's been smooth sailing since. But for a week, Reddit was only half alive. I'm not sure if this was the sole cause for the long dip that followed, but I couldn't find a better explanation. If a Reddit historian can enlighten me, please holler!

2. (different) server issues
Amazon's EC2 cloud service, which Reddit (among others) is hosted on, had sudden downtime for a good portion of the day.

3. SOPA protest
Reddit, along with other prominent websites, blacked out to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), seeing it as a threat to free speech. In a single day of protest, congressional support for the act shifted dramatically.

4. Reddit timelines
Timelines were introduced (e.g. /r/t:1930s, /r/t:2050, /r/t:latestoneage) and were very popular for a few days.

5. Reddit buys Team Fortress 2
Realizing it's business time, Reddit aquired Team Fortress 2 and went Free to Play.

6. the button
For over a month, Reddit was under the spell of the button. Sides were chosen, Scooters were bought, sobriety was achieved, marriages were made and possibly unmade as all hell broke loose. It wasn't until June 8th that the arrival of the Pressiah marked the end of perhaps the most profoundly confusing time in Reddit history. The true purpose of the button is unknown to this day.

7. Ellen Pao debacle
Ellen Pao, then CEO of Reddit, announced a new harassment policy which was met with overwhelming criticism. Soon after, Victoria Taylor (Reddit's director of talent and liaison between the moderators and Reddit itself) was fired. /r/IAmA and many other prominent subreddits temporarily shut themselves down in protest. Ellen Pao resigned after a petition asking her to do so was signed 212,889 times.

Good vibrations

The raw data appears to oscillate strongly. Here's a zoom-in around New Year's day of 2013:

Submissions per day timeline zoom-in

There's a very systematic dip every year during the major holidays. Even though I know Reddit is largely American, I'm a little surprised Thanksgiving shows up so prominently, considering the USA is the only country to celebrate it on that day.

Anyway, with the exception of the holidays, there appears to be a very consistent pattern of 5 days of high activity followed by 2 days of low activity. This is probably a weekly pattern where less submissions are made during the weekend. But let's check to be sure. First, a frequency power spectrum analysis:

Frequency spectrum

Yup, clearly a weekly rhythm. What's cool is you can see harmonic frequencies at 1/2 and 1/3 of the fundamental period of 7 days.

And here's how much each day of the week contributes to the week's total number of submissions, confirming Redditors are most active during the workweek (error bars are standard deviations):

Submissions per day of the week

I am fascinated there's such a strong weekly rhythm to Reddit as a whole. I'm also amazed that, by August 2015, over 200,000 submissions were made every day. Extrapolating to today (June 2016), it might be approaching a quarter of a million submissions per day. Not comments, submissions. Granted, about a quarter of those go unnoticed, but still.

If you're unsure what to do with this information: well, so am I. Nonetheless, I hope you found the read entertaining and the data beautiful.

← back to blog