Many know Reddit as one of the largest social networking sites, with a large number of forums (“subreddits”) catering to almost any interest.
Since the beginning of April, Reddit has hosted a massive collaborative art project called r/place that simultaneously shows us some of the best and worst attributes of cybercultures.
Originally launched in 2017, r/place lasted 72 hours. The lifespan of the new r/place was also short – in the end, it only lasted five days. Initially starting out as a blank canvas, r/place allows users to place a colored pixel every five minutes (or 20 minutes for unverified accounts) as they attempt to create a collective work of art.
Traversing r/place takes you on a journey through time, memes and cultures.
At any time, you can watch a Nine Inch Nails logo, flags from various countries, a QR code linking you to a YouTube video called The Most Logical Arguments Against Veganism (in 10 minutes), and a tribute to Zyzz – a figure popular bodybuilder who died in 2011.
Some artwork on r/place doesn’t seem to represent anything at all. The only mission of The Blue Corner is (you guessed it) to have a blue corner depicted on the final artwork.
The artwork constantly changes during its short lifespan. But even if some community drawings don’t go the distance, time-lapse videos illustrating the ongoing mutation of the web have become a key part of this artwork, ensuring that all contributions play a vital role in the cycle of r/place life.
Collaboration – and opposition
r/place shows us the collaborative nature of humans in online spaces. After emerging in 2017, it was hailed as “the best internet experience yet” and praised for capturing “the internet, in all its wondrous glory”.
This collaborative online art project allows people to express their individuality as well as collective identities formed through interactions with online spaces.
This year’s iteration of r/place, unlike the previous version, demonstrates the interconnectedness of communities in digital spaces. r/place is no longer just for Reddit users. Now, it is clearly possible to rely on communities spread across Twitch, Discord and Twitter.
This influx of communities from all over the internet has not been welcomed by all.
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It is believed that Twitch streamers are ruining the work of small communities and trying to sabotage the project.
Instead of being a democratic representation of online communities and their art, the argument goes, Twitch streamers are encouraging their fans, who number in the hundreds of thousands, to capture hotly contested territory.
Factions – such as those formed between Spanish streamers and BTS fans – have become the main means of ensuring power and influence over the artistic project.
Smaller communities are being driven out at the expense of larger influencers with more bargaining power in this pixel war.
It is not only individuals who participate in this artistic project. Many believe that “bots” are running rampant, performing automated tasks in ways contrary to the idea of this work of art as a representation of human achievement as opposed to technical prowess.
These examples are just a fraction of the chaos on the internet in recent days: 4chan has carried out coordinated attacks on the Trans flag and LGBTQ+ signs, and streamers are receiving an influx of death threats.
The best and the worst of us
At its best, r/place is a powerful illustration of strangers coming together around their online passions and the collaborative nature of the internet.
At worst, it represents everything we no longer love about the Internet: the exclusion of small voices at the expense of cultures of influence, factions between communities and the toxicity of certain cybercultures.
Either way, this project has been great for bolstering Reddit’s publicity as the company goes public.
In its final moments earlier today, users could only place white tiles and watch the spectacle of a once brightly colored collaborative artwork that caused so much mayhem among online communities, simply morphing into a blank canvas.
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