Differences between GroupMe and Reddit as a debate platform for a highly active apologetics group

Why Should I Believe is considering switching from GroupMe to Reddit as our primary conversation and internal debate platform. This article aims to give an overview of what kind of change this will entail. It is published publicly so others groups may benefit from this work; however, secondary readers are cautioned to carefully analyze their community’s culture and needs as each group is unique.

Why Should I Believe (WSIB) has a GroupMe of about 20 people, of which maybe half regularly contribute, with the other half either lurking or just like watching an unread message counter go as high as possible. This GroupMe is known for being highly active, with conversations with hundreds of messages happening at least weekly, and a few dozen messages happening daily. Being highly educated and passionate people (i.e. nerds), these conversations are in-depth, detailed, and span a large number of topics. WSIB exists to apply reason and evidence to Christianity, so we have a lot of discussions around theological and philosophical topics, with politics entering occasionally. We also pride ourselves on our ability to share the most dank and apropos memes for the conversation.

Executive summary

WSIB will eventually move to Reddit. Reddit scales to millions of users, while we already see problems with GroupMe at less than a dozen active users. The conversational nature of GroupMe will be largely lost with Reddit and we will need to be careful to still treat every user as an actual person and not a random internet stranger.

The public nature of Reddit will mean serious implications about how we converse. Controversial topics could prove to be difficult to have a completely open discussion about. The Internet is public, searchable, and forever.

Even with these differences and potential issues, I support moving to Reddit as our primary debate platform.

Methodology

A quick note about the methodology of this article. These are my own opinions. As a long-time member of WSIB and long-time user of both Reddit and GroupMe, I am qualified to speak authoritatively on these subjects; however, these still are merely my opinions and should be accepted only upon critical examination.

Many of the differences mentioned below will amount to: Reddit and GroupMe are different in this respect. This is not intended to mean, “We should not move because of this.”, but simply explain how they different so we may make an informed decision.

Why move to a new platform?

We have experienced a significant amount of growth of the GroupMe in the last few months, with more active members than ever. There’s a lot of conversation happening and having to read 100+ messages that are dense, detailed, nuanced, and lengthy (approximately a typical non-fiction book paragraph) is becoming difficult to keep up with. This is a great problem to have, but it is still a problem. Most of us are students at a difficult school and we all have busy schedules, so we each must evaluate how much time we devote to reading and contributing to what often amounts to academic debate on the GroupMe.

The suggestion was made to move to Reddit as a way to organize the conversations and allow everyone to contribute the topics they are most interested in.

It should be noted we have previously addressed this type of scaling problem in the past. We previously only had a single GroupMe where all topics, including announcements and general business items, were discussed. This became a problem because many members would mute notifications (because of the volume of messages from the debates) and miss important messages. We solved this by introducing a second GroupMe group where only items related to the logistics and business decisions of the organization was discussed. We strongly encouraged all debates and general conversation not related to official business to be held in the primary group. This second channel has largely worked. It allows important topics to be discussed without interrupting the debates and conversations.

GroupMe and Reddit solve different problems

We must first and foremost recognize that GroupMe and Reddit solve different problems and are inherently different. We cannot use Reddit the same way we have used GroupMe.

GroupMe is designed for small groups that need to communicate with everybody at the same time. It is, essentially, an improvement of group SMS texting. It is pretty minimalistic.

Reddit is designed for communities, large and small. Most anyone can post content to the community and the community votes and comments on how awesome it is. It has a rich set of moderation tools and lots of customization options (if you are willing to put the time into customizing the look and feel of the subreddit).

GroupMe: Single Threaded. Reddit: Multithreaded.

Just like in software development, this isn’t a value judgment. Each has its own uses and drawbacks.

The biggest for our discussion is that GroupMe basically requires everybody to read all the messages. Ask a question about a particular passage in 1 Corinthians? You may have to wade through a long-running discussion about the merits of paedobaptism over credobaptism.

With Reddit, there would be at least two threads: one for the passage in 1 Corinthians and one (probably more) about the baptism thing. Topics are focused: if you don’t care whether babies get dunked (or sprinkled or whatever), you can simply ignore that thread.

With the single thread, everybody is on the same page. It is like having a IRL discussion between a few friends. This can be a really good thing. Everyone is exposed to topics they may not be too interested in, but are important to discuss. Perhaps someone doesn’t have a large interest in eschatology, but they read how a particular eschatology has significant implications of some other area of theology and become interested. This likely wouldn’t happen in a multithread environment.

However, some people can get overwhelmed with the number of messages, turn off notifications, and only check in periodically. With WSIB’s volume, even a break of a few days can mean a backlog of hundreds of messages. The GroupMe app was never designed with long-running conversations in mind, so reading through a such a large backlog can sometimes be difficult (e.g. easy to lose your place, multiple conversations going on).

I find Reddit’s format is a bit unwieldy for long-running conversations where the participants reply to each others’ replies many times over. After about 10 replies, you get a link (“Continue this thread —->”) to more comments. But, replies can be much longer, so each reply can address more.

Conversations on a particular topic can last a lot longer. With GroupMe, there is a natural half-life of a conversation. On Reddit, depending on how often new posts are made, a topic can stay near the top for quite a while.

In GroupMe, you are having a conversation with a group of people. Sometimes different schedules (school, work, sleep, etc.) mean the person you would like input from is not available. However, the GroupMe messages keep coming. The conversation can easily get lost in the infinite scroll. This doesn’t happen with the multiple-threaded nature of Reddit.

Multithreaded is more scalable, but more complex. GroupMe works because it is simple and has very little overhead. Reddit works because it can scale to millions of people, but it has a much higher overhead, for both the admins and the regular users. Is Reddit the eventual solution and it is only a question of when? Probably.

Public nature

GroupMe is an invite-only medium of communication. Other than the members of the group, GroupMe itself, and (possibly) the Internet providers, no one of the general public can see any of the posted messages.

Reddit is very public. Everything is open for the public. Everything is archived. Everything is searchable by Google. This is a double-edged sword: We can be the best resource of thoughtful Christian knowledge. We can also be shown to have opinions and beliefs that are not politically correct. Pseudonyms only help so much and unless you go to extreme lengths, you should assume everything you say can be linked back to the real you.

We discuss some highly controversial topics. Some of us have controversial philosophical, theological, and political opinions and beliefs. We want WSIB to eventually be the best at raising the best Christian apologists in the world. That will eventually draw criticism and certain groups may use anything we say against us. Cogently defending Jesus is controversial enough to draw fire; adding in the rest of the controversial beliefs will only add fuel to the fire.

We could restrict our topics, but I believe this is impractical and counterproductive. For one, well-reasoned arguments for unpopular positions on controversial topics are rare. It would be a serious damper to not discuss, for example, same-sex marriage. So many aspects of theology touch on it; having an out-right ban on the topic would be detrimental to conversation. It is inevitable someone will post: “Is gay marriage wrong?” Even armed with our considerable capability to provide a well-reasoned answer to this question, we must understand that our answer will probably draw criticism from conservatives and progressives—mostly because we won’t agree with either side.

We may see topics we once had no problem talking about in the private confines of GroupMe, we no longer are quite as open talking about. We must recognize that these sensitive topics still need discussing and possibly provide other avenues for free and open debate.

While private subreddits are a thing, it is unusual for a subreddit to be private. Being private doesn’t really help us in the long run as we have previously stated we want to try to use this as a way to interact with others outside the group to encourage them to join us in our quest for truth.

Reddit is more anonymous than GroupMe. This is good because newcomers may feel more comfortable asking questions if they feel like they can’t be personally identified. However, there is another aspect to anonymity: The sense of talking to another person is dulled. GroupMe’s user interface makes it very obvious we are talking to real people. There’s a picture (which we usually have as a real picture of ourselves) and our real name associated with every message. The conversational nature reinforces this as well. Reddit’s user interface is less obvious about this, even though there is a real person behind every username.

I have a few friends who are interested in apologetics, but they live outside of Atlanta and would only be able to attend very special events. The GroupMe has traditionally been only for WSIB members (although we have been experimenting lately), so inviting non-members has been questionable. A subreddit would solve this. Just invite people to the sub.

Culture and etiquette

I’ll quickly mention that we inherit Reddit culture and etiquette. We’re free to make our own rules for the subreddit (and many subs have their own rules), so this isn’t a big issue.

Some subreddits have evolved over the years from very specific communities into more general catch-all subs. Usually this is because the content is high quality. Our organization’s vision could naturally move this subreddit this way. As we grow, we may need to hold discussions on whether this is desirable or not. It is notable that there is no well-established place on the Internet for high-level apologetics discussion. Perhaps /r/WhyShouldIBelieve could become that place.

Different requirements for ‘membership’

Reddit merely requires users to click Subscribe before posting, and no requirement for reading. GroupMe requires a current member invitation for reading or writing.

We will get people who come in for a single question or post and never hear from them again.

Trolls

It’s the Internet. We won’t have much trouble at first because no one knows about the sub. However, if any of our threads gets popular or we get selected as the sub of the day or any other big publicity event happens, we will be swamped with trolls because of our religious nature. We will need to have mods monitoring and keeping the peace.

Format

Reddit has a 10,000 character limit for comments and 40,000 for the original post. Using the app, GroupMe limits every message to 450; using the SMS, it depends on your SMS app, with some limiting you to 160 characters. With such a large increase in character limits, the nature of conversation will change. Likely, our discussions we become more nuanced and posts longer simply because the limits have been lifted.

We may use less of the methods from the book Tactics and more formal debate methods in posting because of the format differences.

Reddit supports Markdown, which allows for simple formatting (like bolditalicsunderliningstrikethrough, headers, lists, tables, and horizontal bars; see this link for a primer). For those with plenty of time on their hands, they can make their long posts really well formatted.

Reddit is well supported on the web and with a plethora of apps.

Images are not shown inline with the message and must be clicked to view the dank meme. Meme sharing will be different.

Crystallization

GroupMe requires a conversation to happen for information to be shared. Reddit posts are archived and searchable (via Google). This means conversation will likely become more “crystallized”. Someone ask a question about the existence of God for the 42nd time? We’ll just link to a few good past threads and that will be it.

Voting

Voting changes things. It has been demonstrated (for popular subs) that the highest voted comments are those that are early, not necessarily the best content.

Do upvotes mean people agree or good content? GroupMe has likes and WSIB has been using it as “I agree with this message.” Votes are anonymous, so we can’t use it easily for “I agree”.

Conclusion

I will reiterate that most of these points boil down to “Reddit is different”. This doesn’t mean we should not adopt Reddit, only that we need to consider how we approach it.

I believe that WSIB will ultimately and eventually move to Reddit; I thought it would take another few years before we were forced by scaling issues to it, though. Reddit gives us a whole new way to reach people we could never have before. There are some exciting improvements over GroupMe that will allow us to improve our debating skills in a slightly more formal setting where our words can be seen by others outside WSIB.

We will need to be careful how we approach controversial topics. However, this is true for any public forum. We have to deal with this anytime we host a public debate or field questions from the audience as presenters. Reddit makes this a much more pointed issue because the Internet is forever. We won’t initially see any of these problems, which makes it more dangerous, but allows us to figure it out as we go.

Considering everything, I fully support moving to Reddit as our primary debating platform.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s