[Editor’s Note: This will be Rob Pegoraro’s last post for the Disruptive Competition Project. With the New Year, Rob is joining Yahoo Tech. He will be missed here at DisCo.]
If you’d like to buy an argument on the Internet, Alexis Ohanian can probably help get you started. Shortly after graduating from the University of Virginia in 2005, he founded Reddit; a year later, that discussion forum was acquired by Condé Nast.
A mix of seemingly endless comments threads and high-profile “Ask Me Anything” interviews featuring everybody from President Obama to an anonymous shipping-company employee, it’s since become one of the Internet’s most popular discussion sites, with almost 91 million visitors in November of 2013.
Ohanian remains a frequent commenter on his own site and has since branched out into other ventures. He started using the proceeds of Reddit’s sale to invest in such startups as the crowdfunding site Crowdtilt and the professional-education service General Assembly (the name of his investment firm, “Das Kapital Capital,” suggests the history major he once was).
In 2008, Ohanian founded Breadpig, a “sidekick-for-hire” that provides a variety of services for startups. And in 2010 he became an advisor to Hipmunk, a crafty little travel-search site co-founded by his Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman.
Ohanian’s role in founding a site based on the input of its users made him one of the more prominent opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have made a site like Reddit essentially impossible. The experience of seeing Hollywood’s lobbying push for that bill defeated by a popular outcry seems to have emboldened him to speak out on other tech-policy issues that can hinder startups—in particular, reforming the patent system to punish patent trolling.
Ohanian’s also an interesting guy to talk to in person, as we did for about half an hour in late November during a Washington stop on the tour for his book “Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed.” Here are some highlights of our conversation.
Q. We’re looking at a site that lets people post with no prior filtering. How much did intellectual-property risks factor into founding Reddit?
A. Safe harbor was really helpful, because we would occasionally get takedown notices. But that was pretty rare—I mean, the fact is, Reddit works by linking to other Web sites, so we’re not hosting that content ourselves. The only content we have on Reddit are in the comments.
And fortunately, we have a reasonable understanding of fair use. You know, if someone is citing a paragraph in an article because they want to critique it, then most reasonable people will agree that that’s acceptable.