Reddit r/place is one of the most inspiring events on the internet, as diverse communities from across platforms come together to paint together on the same big digital canvas. But amidst the ongoing controversy over Reddit’s API pricing changes, which has put many indie developers out of business, this year’s r/place served as an opportunity for Reddit users to continue their ongoing rebellion.
The origins of r/place date back to 2017, when then-Reddit engineer Josh Wardle created it as an April Fool’s Day event (yes, that’s the same people who created Wordle!). On a one million pixel canvas, every registered Redditor can place one colored pixel every five minutes. So, each of the subreddits will be teaming up to make their mark on the massive piece of collaborative art — in the past, we’ve seen a giant Brazilian flag, a pixel-perfect re-enactment of the Mona Lisa, countless rainbows, and John’s pizza who stares at your soul. The project is back for a second time in 2022, attracting nearly 11 million users, so Reddit decided to bring back r/place this year. The event was scheduled for June 23, but was postponed, because by then, many subreddits had been closed in response to API changes.
“So what they’re saying is that they’ve screwed up so badly they’re going to try to distract us with r/place,” one Redditor comment on the announcement.
Following Twitter’s (also controversial) lead, Reddit announced in early June that it would start charging developers for access to its API, which limits the community’s ability to create the plug-ins and features that make Reddit more accessible and enjoyable. Christian Selig, developer of the popular iOS client Apollo, said it was now costing him $20 million a year to keep his app online, so in late June, he closed it for good. Other apps such as Sync for Reddit, BaconReader and Boost for Reddit have also been shut down, while developers for Convey, Now for Reddit And Drill Whale decided to start billing for subscriptions. Not everything on the internet can come free, but this resource has been a core part of Reddit for so long that this change feels like a slap in the face.
Instead of listening to the community, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman — known as u/spez on the site — doubled down on keeping API changes. Redditors see it as a representation of how Reddit has changed for the worse, so now, r/place is covered with messages saying “fuck spez.” At the time of publication, there were about 50 different variations of “fuck spez” on r/place (…and in about another fifteen minutes, some of those messages were covered in “DICKS” rainbows). The German community got very creative, writing “u/spez ist ein hurendsohn,” which roughly translates to “u/spez is a bastard.” Ouch.
The canvas changes quickly, and will most likely be unrecognizable by the end of the project. But so far, r/place is sending a clear and unified message that Reddit’s user base is unhappy with Huffman’s leadership. Even within these protesting groups, there are divisions – some want to paint the entire canvas black, and have begun their efforts in what they call “black holes”. Others are on the “fuck spez” train. And some people think that simply engaging in r/place means giving Reddit execs what they want, which is more clicks on their site.
There’s no way any amount of “fuck spez”-es will change Huffman’s mind about Reddit’s API pricing. But at the very least, this attempt shows that the user is not willing to back down just yet.