If you’d rather spend time chatting with strangers who share a hyper-specific interest rather than keeping up with your coworkers’ stale memes on Slack, Reddit is ready for you. The platform has quietly been working on a chat room feature for months now and today it expands beyond its early days as a very limited closed beta.
Plenty of subreddits already make use of a chat room feature, but these live outside of Reddit, usually on Slack or Discord. Given that, it makes sense for Reddit to lure those users back into the engaging on Reddit itself by offering its own chat feature.
I spent a little time hanging out in the /r/bjj (brazilian jiu jitsu) chat as well as the a psychedelics chat affiliated with r/weed to see how things went across the spectrum and it was pretty chill — mostly people asking for general advice or seeking answers to specific questions. In a Reddit chat linked to the r/community_chat subreddit — the hub for the new chat feature — redditors discussed if the rooms would lead to more or less harassment and if the team should add upvotes, downvotes and karma to chat to make it more like Reddit’s normal threads. Of course, what I saw is probably a far cry from what chat will look like if and when some of its more inflammatory subreddits get their hands on the new feature. We’ve reached out to Reddit with questions about if it will allow all subreddits, even the ones hidden behind content warnings, will be offered the new chat functionality.
Chat rooms are meant as a supplement to already active subreddits, not a standalone community, so it’s basically like watching a Reddit thread unfold in realtime. On the Reddit blog, u/thunderemoji writes about why Reddit is optimistic that chat rooms won’t just be another trolling tool:
“I was initially afraid that most people would bring out the pitchforks and… unkind words. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most people are actually quite nice. The nature of real-time, direct chat seems to be especially disarming. Even when people initially lash out in frustration or to troll, I found that if you talk to them and show them you’re a regular human like them, they almost always chill out.
“Beyond just chilling out, people who are initially harsh or skeptical of new things will actually often change their minds. Sometimes they get so excited that they start to show up in unexpected places defending the thing they once strongly opposed in a way that feels more authentic than anything I could say.”
While a few qualitative experiences can only go so far to allay fears, Reddit’s chat does have a few things going for it. For one, moderators add chat rooms. If a subreddit’s mods don’t they don’t think they can handle the additional moderation, they don’t have to activate the feature. (A Wired piece on the thinking behind chat explores some of these issues in more depth.)
In the same post, u/thunderemoji adds that Reddit “made moderation features a major priority for our roadmap early in the process” so that mods would have plenty of tools at their disposal. Those tools include an opt-in process, auto-banning users from chat who are banned from a subreddit, “kick” tools that suspend a user for 1 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day or 3 days, the ability to lock a room and freeze all activity, rate limits and more.
To sign up for chat rooms (mods can add as many as they’d like once approved), a subreddit’s moderators can add their name to a list that lives here. To find chat rooms to explore, you can check for a link on subreddits you already visit, poke around the sidebar in this post by Reddit’s product team or check out /r/SubChats, a dedicated new subreddit collecting active chat rooms that accompany interest and community-specific subreddits.