Reddit’s little mascot, Snoo, comprises multitudes. The dear, ever-smiling alien hangs out on the prime of lots of of subreddits, mixing with the locals like a savvy politician. In r/timber, a group for marijuana fanatics, Snoo puffs a joint. In r/gonewild, Snoo poses for a selfie in a wig and lingerie. In r/Asceticism, Snoo dematerializes into the cyberether, its type the mere wisp of a top level view.
Cheeky bugger. Certainly, Snoo’s existence has at all times been one thing of an inside joke. Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian doodled the creature in a pocket book throughout a advertising class his senior yr on the College of Virginia. Black and white with pops of purple, it appeared conjured from pure whimsy: oval head, pom-pom ears, single antenna. Like a Teletubby, minus the house swimsuit. When Reddit launched in 2005, the drawing served as a handy icon for the positioning, which was then a spot for sharing information hyperlinks. (Advance Publications, which owns WIRED writer Condé Nast, is now a Reddit shareholder.) At first, Ohanian needed to name the positioning S’new, a marshmallow-mouthed contraction of “What’s new?” The tastier identify Reddit prevailed; Snoo, extra pleasingly spelled, lived on with the mascot.
As Reddit expanded and its person base splintered into tribes (subreddits), Snoo proved a becoming position mannequin. “Snoo came to symbolize Reddit and a Reddit user,” Ohanian says, in that the icon occurred to be significantly moldable. It’s a contented accident that Ohanian’s hurried sketch left Snoo colorless and genderless, a type onto which everybody might map themselves.
This inventive canvas was, in some methods, illustrative of the early net, the place no one knew you have been a canine. The closest factor to verification on Reddit, even now, is a affirmation that the e-mail connected to your account is actual. Anonymity is accepted, even inspired. You’ll be able to have a number of accounts, faux accounts, throwaways for posting the sorts of deep, darkish musings that completely should not, below any circumstances, get traced again to the true you. (I’ve three usernames: one for lurking, one for reportage, and one for functions I’d by no means share in print.) Identities are fragmented; every model of you, a brand new Snoo.
There are some limits, particularly now that Reddit has matured. You’ll be able to’t harass or threaten different customers, nor deploy Snoo to these ends. In reality, Snoo has a number of design constraints. When Reddit unveiled a brand new model of the positioning in April—its first refresh in a decade—the crew canonized sure anatomical options: Snoo’s head “should always appear blank or neutral”; its eyes must be orange-red, hex #FF4500; it might probably’t have fingers; it ought to have ears (the higher, maybe, to listen to, and thereby discourage, hate speech). The corporate additionally gave Snoo a extra specific goal: to find and discover humanity. (Following the redesign, r/timber and r/asceticism now not function a Snoo.)
This, it seems, is a continuation of Snoo’s origin story. Ohanian says it was by no means simply any alien. It’s from the future, a tiny time traveler right here to watch our actuality. As Ohanian explains, “It was a guarantee we weren’t going to fail. If we failed, Snoo wouldn’t be able to travel back to the present.”
Let’s parse that. There’s a future, a distant one, during which Reddit nonetheless exists, during which sweet-faced creatures like Snoo merrily dwell. Actually this can be a very beautiful thought. Additionally it is a pompous and slightly ingenious little bit of teleology. All startup founders function from a basis of optimism—they’re going to alter the world. However Ohanian does them one higher. He constructed hope into his platform’s very mythology.
No one would mistake Reddit for a rainbowland of pure love. Trolls nonetheless yuck it up, and Snoo has seen some nasty issues. However because the status of different social media plummets, with customers turning in opposition to the algorithms that mine our each like and submit, Reddit’s standing as a messy myriad of supportive, principally self-policed communities has stayed pretty fixed. There is no such thing as a strain to curate a well-designed profile, to be the individual Instagram or Fb or Snapchat expects you to be. That’s what Snoo stands for. More room than substance, Snoo reveals us one other technique to characterize ourselves on-line: as shape-shifting cosmic weirdos, looking for our place among the many stars.
This text seems within the July subject. Subscribe now.