Interview with a mod of /r/uofmn, the U’s own subreddit

by Thomas Q. Johnson

/r/uofmnWilliam Black, aka the user ”franzferdinand” on, is a moderator of the subreddit dedicated to all things UofM: /r/uofmn. Check out his responses (below, collected via email) to A&E's questions about the /r/uofmn board and the Reddit community in general.


Also, pick up A&E on Thursday for a story on the local subreddit scene, in preparation for Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s visit to campus Thursday evening at the Bell Museum. Pick up a copy of Ohanian's new book, "Without Their Permission," here.


What is /r/uofmn in a nutshell?

Well, in the most basic of terms it’s an extension of the news aggregate site reddit.  It’s basically a sub-forum.  If you’re familiar with reddit then you know that there are a variety of “subreddits” (sub-forums) that align to any interest you may have.  And I do mean any, be careful what you wish for.  r/uofmn in particular is the subreddit for the University of Minnesota: Twin Cities and it’s one of huge network of college subreddits.  We’re sitting at ~2200 members as I write this.  It’s basically a place where anyone can come to ask questions about the U or anything relating to it or its surroundings.  We get a lot of posts asking about housing, classes, student groups, student services, mentions in the news, and other things like that.  I really think that a general forum like this is something that the U lacked before r/uofmn came around and I’d love to see more people join in.  It’s a great resource being able to ask a huge group of peers about a teacher or advice on doing research.  The U officially has pages for most of these things, or there are always websites like ratemyprofessor, but you get personalized answers pertaining to your exact situation this way and I think that they’re more honest.  People will tell you how they had unexpected difficulty with UROP or how a class may seem rather simple but the tests are especially picky about a certain subject.  We have a lot of the advantages that come with being a small subreddit, we’re not inundated with memes and asinine posts and the community is really genuine and helpful.  I hope that as we continue to grow that the quality we have now is maintained while the amount of content increases.


How/why did you become a moderator of /r/uofmn? What kind of work does it involve?

Well I stared it my freshman year simply because I went looking for a U of M subreddit and couldn’t find one.  Reddit makes it incredibly easy to start a subreddit, you essentially just fill out a form that names and describes what your subreddit is, who is allowed to see it and post in it, how strong your spam filter is, etc. and voila, you now have your own little internet community. When you create a new subreddit it makes you the founder and the only moderator, but allows you to appoint more as you see fit.  After it existed for a while people started to contribute things to improve the look and code of subreddit (it’s heavily modified now), so I made a few of those people moderators because they showed that they were invested in the community.  Since then they’ve really done an incredible amount, I really can’t thank them enough.  The look of the site, the wiki, and the FAQs are 90% their work.  Most of the day to day work is making sure that the spam filter doesn’t catch posts that are fine to go up and removing offensive posts, which is managed really well by our team.


Do you know anyone else on /r/uofmn or are most of the posters anonymous to you?

I know a quite a few people that subscribe, but for the most part I don’t know their usernames.  Nearly all of the content is contributed by people I don’t know, or at least don’t know that I know.  It’s really just sort of sprung up organically; we don’t really promote or beg people to contribute.


Who is the average user of /r/uofmn? What do you think they're trying to get out of the forum?

I think that they’re pretty much all students and alumni trying to be a part of their school’s community online.  They’re looking for a forum where they can discuss issues relevant to our university and exchange experiences.   I don’t think anyone really starts using r/uofm as their first experience on reddit.  It’s more of an extension of their routine as an additional topic of interest to them.


What's a memorable awesome post, or example of a topic, that you think exemplifies the best qualities of reddit as a community site?

Oh wow, that’s a big question.  I think as an ongoing thing the Ask Me Anything threads are a really cool feature.  They have a variety of different musicians, politicians, academics, and actors do Q and A’s with the whole reddit community posing the questions.  The community itself has done some pretty incredible things in the past, lots of charitable donations fueled by the publicity reddit can generate.  Things like this really show what the community can get together to do.  There are also subreddits like r/suicidewatch and a variety of different communities for people with mental disorders and those that want to support them.  I think that outreach like that really can make a difference.


Are there any other subreddits that you frequent?

I’m a big fan of subreddits like r/mapporn, r/dataisbeautiful, r/internetisbeautiful, and other things like those that expose me to information I wouldn’t otherwise come across.  It’s also great for keeping track of new music; r/hiphopheads has an especially active community and I’m a big fan of r/futurebeats, though it gets significantly less traffic.  Not to say I don’t use it to kill time, I’m especially guilty of that.  I like subs like r/tall and r/askreddit for that.  I’ve burned countless hours reading peoples’ stories on askreddit, I’d bet that subreddit probably has occupied the most time of any on the site.


If you were to give advice to someone looking to get started with reddit — someone who has heard of it, but never really spent much time on it — what would you say?

Honestly, the first thing would be to make an account and unsubscribe from the default subreddits that don’t interest you.  There will be a lot of posts that show up on your front page that you don’t care about if you don’t do that.  Then try to find the subreddits that really reflect your interests.  As I mentioned earlier, there is a subreddit for everything.  Reddit is an incredible way to kill an immense amount of time, but it’s also a great way to learn a lot about a variety of different things.  For example: when I decided I wanted to learn more about home brewing I did a bunch of reading on r/homebrewing.  They have a really helpful community and really detailed FAQs for newcomers.  Reddit really is what you make it.  Also, it’s worth mentioning Reddit Enhancement Suite.  It’s an add-on for most browsers that works solely on reddit and gives you features you wouldn’t otherwise have that improve the interface.  It’s a lot of simple things like being able to saving posts and view pictures without opening a new window.