Reddit Struggles While Hosting President Obama

The President of the United States answered questions on the website, which slowed under the heavy load.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

August 29, 2012

3 Min Read

If you stopped by Reddit, the popular online discussion site on Wednesday around 4:30 p.m. EDT, you might have seen this message: "reddit is under heavy load right now, sorry. Try again in a few minutes."

Windows 8 RTM

Reddit was overwhelmed by online visitors because of an unusual participant in the site's "Ask me anything" series. AMAs, as they're called, begin with the participant stating his or her name, followed by the invitation to "ask me anything."

Wednesday's "I am Barack Obama, President of the United States--AMA" understandably drew a lot of attention. Reddit has hosted AMAs featuring celebrities before, such as comedian Stephen Colbert, but never a U.S. President.

The site, which runs atop Amazon Web Services infrastructure, became slow to respond and was inaccessible for many. So much for the vaunted scalability of cloud computing.

The outage provided fodder for numerous witty tweets. "Obama has taken down the two greatest threats to America's future--Osama bin Laden and Reddit," quipped the Twitter account Indecision.

Reddit did not immediately respond to a request for details about its efforts to deal with the flood of visitors.

[ Would you want to read Reddit on an airplane? Read FAA Reconsiders Airplane Mobile Device Ban. ]

Despite the technical difficulties, President Obama offered responses suited to his audience, such as strong advocacy for Internet freedom--Reddit was among the websites that opposed SOPA and PIPA earlier this year.

"Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too," President Obama said in one post. "We will fight hard to make sure that the Internet remains the open forum for everybody--from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business. And although there will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won't stray from that principle--and it will be reflected in the [Democratic Party] platform."

One question posed by a person claiming to be recent law school graduate who is unable to find a job sought clarification about what kind of hope the President could offer in his second term.

Expressing sympathy for the plight of the purported would-be lawyer, President Obama said the key to everyone's economic future lay in growing the economy and creating more middle-class jobs.

"I want to keep promoting advanced manufacturing that will bring jobs back to America, promote all-American energy sources (including wind and solar), keep investing in education and make college more affordable, rebuild our infrastructure, invest in science, and reduce our deficit in a balanced way with prudent spending cuts and higher taxes on folks making more than $250,000/year," the President said.

After answering a few more questions, the President urged people to vote in November and affirmed the value of technology as a tool to support democracy. "This is an example of how technology and the Internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy over the long run," he said.

However, no everyone was so sanguine about the benefits of technology. Writing for The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal said Reddit was a terrible format for interacting with a politician. The format of the AMA purports to offer unmediated access, he observed, but "a modern politician is never unmediated. ... Tech is not the answer to the problems of modern politics."

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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