The subreddits on the link sharing and discussion website Reddit, are forums associated with different topics like politics, sports, science etc. If you visit a subreddit, it’s behavior is similar to a person’s Twitter or Facebook account. Different posts are either “upvoted” (retweeted or liked), “downvoted” or ignored by followers of that subreddit. Even non-followers get to upvote a post if it goes viral (exactly like Twitter where people who don’t follow me can still retweet my tweet). The number of followers increase if the subreddit consistently produces good posts that manage to show up on the front page of the reddit. Or sometimes the niche for the subreddit is so small, that it’s popularity never exceeds beyond a certain point (think about the popular academic twitter profiles).

In the case of a twitter account, the incentive to tweet good content is to get more followers. It is directly beneficial to the individual who owns the account. In case of a subreddit though, the growth is heavily dependent on it’s followers who have their own incentives, which is to get more “karma”. Interestingly, this incentive structure is also seen in Nature among the so called Superorganims. These are formed by large groups of social insects like ants or termites. The individual ants work tirelessly towards their own goal (of passing the maximum genes into next generation by helping the Queen) without any “thought” about superorganism’s “needs” (like building mounds, collecting preys much bigger than a single ant itself).

But this similarity among subreddits and superorganims isn’t really surprising, is it? An entity that consists of multiple living organisms that are working to achieve their own goals, is bound to take a life of its own. Especially if there are multiple such entities in a single ecosystem that are competing for same resources. In this case, that would be multiple subreddits within the Reddit ecosystem competing for our attention on the internet. It is our regular attention that feeds life into these subreddits. Higher attention usually aids a subreddit in producing popular memes that make into the bigger Reddit or Internet conscious.

Note: Biologists disagree whether it is appropriate to call ant colonies Superorganims. For a background, see this paper.