When I first met Josh Wardle — four years before he invented Simple game It will make his name, or its sloping rhyme, unexpectedly famous-he’s at Reddit’s San Francisco headquarters, close to panic, wondering if one of his online experiments is about to get confused. I thought. It was March 31, 2017. The Wardle experiment was called Place. With a blank canvas, 1000 white pixels x 1000 white pixels, Reddit users have digitally tampered with it the way they like.I was assigned to this magazine and reported Talk about Reddit, Wardle then worked as a product manager. The central question in my story was also the central question of Wardle’s work, if not the Internet itself. Can you design your online space so that the benefits of frictionless mass participation outweigh the costs?
Wardle had previously performed such an experiment and he learned several lessons. The simplest of these was to keep things simple. He designed a place with time constraints. Each participant could change the color of one pixel every 5 minutes and no more. I hoped this would facilitate collaboration. Other than that, there were basically no rules. When such unlimited experiments work, we tend to use words like “democracy” and “freedom” to describe them. If this is not the case, we often call “entropy” or “turbulence.” Wardle, who urgently updates the tabs on his laptop, was clearly nervous, but stuck to his point. The internet is full of creativity and teamwork. It provides more tools for people to interact with, and they balance and use those tools wisely. “I’m pretty confident,” he said. “If I say I’m 100% confident, I’m lying.” Already, one of the top comments about Place has read, “I’ll give you an hour to swastika.”
If Place sounds like a minimalist conceptual art project, it may be because Wardle was trained as a minimalist conceptual artist. He grew up in South Wales and moved to Oregon in 2008 to earn an MFA for Digital Art. One of his few non-digital works, an installation in a physical gallery, was called “this button”. The person who entered the gallery had a red button on the pedestal, which displayed a timer showing the elapsed time since the button was pressed. “Imagine you’re coming in alone, the timer is running for two days, and you’re counting,” Wardle said recently. “You are facing a choice. You can be instantly satisfied with the push of a button, but throw away that line and erase all the restraints of many strangers who have come before you. I thought it was an interesting tension. “His classmates didn’t. “They just walked one by one and pushed a button,’I don’t understand it.'”
He moved to San Francisco in 2011, hit a friend’s sofa and got a job at Reddit. “It’s a very entry-level job,” he said. “But they were offering a free breakfast, so I spent a lot of time in the office When Free lunch. “He went his own way, became a product manager, learned code, and returned as an engineer. Traditionally, tech companies release naughty videos and interactive gags on April Fool’s Day. At Reddit, this responsibility. Is in Wardle, and Wardle used it as an opportunity to conduct social experiments. One year, his April Fool’s experiment was an online version of “This Button,” now renamed “The Button.” .. This time, the timer started from 60 seconds and counted down. Every time someone presses a button, the timer is reset. The experiment ends when the timer reaches zero. “People were a little crazy about it,” Wardle told me. Some participants have created a Chrome extension that sends an alert when a timer falls below a certain threshold. For some, pressing the button as late as possible has become a sign of pride. In all, the button has been pressed over a million times. Pressed at least once a minute for 24 hours for at least 2 months.
In 2013, Wardle helped create a game that looked like a combination of summer camp color warfare and social psychology. Study of hostility outside the group.. Reddit users were randomly assigned to either Team Periwinkle or Team Orangered, and the teams went into battle, voted against each other’s comments, and devised a ritual to connect the groups. As Wardle said, the teams were “united by difference,” but there were also flaming wars and other discomforts. “Reddit, like most tech companies, has been very focused on user growth,” says Wardle. “But growth is not always in line with other values, such as safety, community and providing a healthy and sustainable experience for users.” Exploring this tension is his career. Became the main focus of. Can social media companies stay competitive without abusing their users? Do you extract data, draw attention, and expose users to short-term exciting but ultimately destructive interactions? And if one employee of one of these companies wants to mitigate these dilemmas, is it more convenient to stay with the company and encourage them to reform from the inside out or improve something away?
For April Fool’s Day 2016, Wardle created Robin, another Reddit game based on pop psychology. (It’s named after Robin Dunbar, the Oxford anthropologist who is best known for Dunbar’s number. It quantifies “the number of individuals a person can maintain a stable relationship with.” Two strangers were paired in a small chat room and three were given. Options: Stay in a small room, join others to form a large room, or stop chatting. The lesson of the game is that the bigger it is, the better it is, and people seemed to understand it. “Like reddit, it’s small at first and you can talk to people, then it gets bigger, more dirty and noisy,” said the top vote comment. I read the following comment, “I can confirm.” “It was fun to start with two people. At 16, that noise chamber.” Wardle told me, “Very quickly, 8 becomes 16 and 32 becomes spam, slander, all the classics. You’ll see terrible Internet stuff. “Still, most people chose to continue the merger, he added.
The morning before April Fool’s Day 2017, at the beginning of the place, there was no swastika yet. But in the middle of the square was a more elemental form of digital graffiti, a bright red cartoon cock. Wardle addressed this as a design issue. In other words, he blamed himself. “Our default was to start with everyone at the center,” he told me. “When we drop you there, the first thing you see is this giant red dick. This is a very powerful clue. Welcome to Place. We are drawing a dick. Pixels provided. Do you? “He tried nudge instead of rubbing or censoring graffiti. Instead of starting from the center, new users dropped in at random. This allowed people to paint new pictures in different sectors of the canvas, giving the next visitor a choice from different projects. Eventually, Dick Douder got bored and went on. The center of the square was overtaken by the blue line, the Finnish flag, the apple tree, and finally the American flag. And it continued to be sniffed by digital destroyers and revived. It felt like a very impressive parable, so I used it as the closing scene for my book. But it wasn’t an allegory with a clear takeaway. Like any of Wardle’s experiments, the place did not draw a single clear conclusion that the Internet is only about collaboration, for example mutual assured destruction. Like any good art project, it raises more questions than it answers.
Wardle was good at using Reddit to criticize Reddit, but didn’t know how good it was. In contrast to Silicon Valley’s dominant culture, which includes one or two episodes of failure on the road to inevitable achievement in a standard personal narrative, Wardles are unusually prone to ambivalence and self-blame. “I thought it helped people understand and tackle the inherent trade-offs between growth and sustainability,” he says. “I was probably creating a really dangerous place because of the horrifying things that happened.” He left Reddit last year. “I always want to be creative on the internet, and I’m always fascinated by how complex humans are and how strange our emergent behavior is,” he said. Told. “I also start thinking that I’m trying to make something that brings the best to people, and I think I’m always worried about how easy it is to do the opposite, even with good intentions. . “