Pando

Just because Obama used your website, it doesn't mean your product is worth a damn

By David Holmes , written on April 7, 2015

From The News Desk

When President Obama hosted an "Ask Me Anything" thread on the sometimes-entertaining, often-enlightening, and frequently-deplorable platform Reddit, the mainstream press immediately cast it as a huge win for the site. (In terms of temporary traffic, it absolutely was, though its number of visitors quickly went back down to the site's normal -- albeit impressive -- numbers pretty quickly).

At the time, CNN wrote, "When President Barack Obama decided to take questions directly over social media he didn't turn to his 28 million Facebook fans, or his 19 million Twitter followers. Instead, he turned to a website called Reddit."

That's right, mom and dad, don't forget the name Reddit because it's going to be bigger than Facebook. And Twitter. And Taylor Swift. Combined!

Except no. A few weeks after Obama's AMA, the platform became synonymous with rape threats, bigotry, and child pornography after Gawker's expose of the platform's most notorious user Violentacrez made national news. The following year, Reddit was again thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after severely botching its crowdsourced "investigation" following the Boston Marathon bombing, which mutated into a witchhunt resulting in a highly publicized false accusation against a completely innocent man. And most recently, one of its subreddits hosted hundreds of illegally-obtained private photos of celebrities, many of which depicted nudity or other intimate acts. The site eventually removed the subreddit but only after widespread public outcry (and a ton of traffic).

Why am I bringing this up now? Because today, Google announced it is shutting down the question-and-answer site you never knew it had, Google Moderator. Why? Because virtually no one ended up using it except... President Obama.

In December 2008, the then President-elect answered 86,000 user questions on the platform, and received 5.7 million "votes" on his answers. At the time, Techcrunch wrote "Google should be paying [Obama] an endorsement fee for all this promotion." Good thing it didn't take the tech blog's advice.

The truth is, Obama's digital team uses an enormous number of services -- some of which, like Google Moderator, won't last long enough to see the President through his two terms. Obviously Reddit isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But the next time someone flips out because a major politician -- even the president -- uses Medium or Quora or Meerkat or any service that isn't already the biggest thing in the world, just remember it's no guarantee that you'll ever hear from that service again.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]