Reddit’s first chief product officer has a vision

As an “OG Redditor,” Pali Bhat thinks like a user to figure out where the platform heads next.

Reddit app

Reddit's Pali Bhat has a new product philosophy to guide the platform into the future.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

Pali Bhat has big plans for Reddit. The company’s first chief product officer has less than a year under his belt, but as a self-described “OG Redditor,” he’s accustomed to thinking like a user. It’s that experience that informs every new feature or update.

“The way I like to think about products is to always start with the users,” Bhat told Protocol.

Bhat announced a slew of upcoming updates, including the expansion of post translations and the addition of video tools, and also shared the guidelines for how changes will develop at Reddit. Bhat’s philosophy, he said, is SUPER: simple, universal, performant, excellent and relevant. That catchy acronym is designed to make sure that every feature actually does right by Reddit's communities.

Bhat posted the guidelines from his personal Reddit account, leaving comments and reactions open for users to bring up concerns. (Hundreds did, with many commenting about issues ranging from the site’s video player to its mobile capabilities.)

Bhat spoke with Protocol about SUPER, how Reddit stops misinformation and his goal to make the platform’s communities “self-sustaining.”

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

You joined Reddit in October. What have your first few months been like?

When you make a move from a place like Google where I spent over 10 years — or any job where you’ve spent over 10 years — and you're switching into a new area, you're doing it because you're really excited. But I have to say it's far and away exceeded all the expectations I had, because just the sheer opportunity that we have here to go have a positive impact is staggering.

Reddit Chief Product Officer Pali Bhat.Photo: Reddit

How has your experience at Google informed your new role so far?

I think the biggest lesson that I brought from Google is really about how we can operate at scale. Reddit is a very, very interesting place. We are one of the largest, and one of the most relevant, platforms on the web. But we're still a platform that has a lot of opportunity to grow. It's not often that you get to work on a product that's used in love by 500 million users, and think, “We can actually grow this to reach more users.”

In a TikTok world, what is Reddit’s place in the social media landscape?

I see Reddit as the human face of the internet. Whenever there's anything that happens in the world, people congregate on Reddit to support each other and come together and figure out how to get by. It represents the diversity of thought that we all have, and it's not characterized by any sort of narrow demographic traits. It's about who you want to be and what you are interested in.

For instance, if you just look at me, you might think: “male, Indian.” But in reality, what I am is someone who's really passionate about astrophotography and really passionate about cricket. And Reddit lets you go dive into your passions and be yourself.

Recently, you announced a number of new updates, all guided by this new product philosophy you call SUPER. Can you explain what that is?

There's really five pillars that stood out. The first was: Let's make Reddit really simple. Let’s make it easier for [users] to engage with communities. Second is about making Reddit more universal. We are about 500 million users right now, but we have an opportunity to reach many, many more. That means making the communities you care about available on Reddit, and available in the language you want on your mobile phone or on your desktop.

The third is all about making Reddit performant, and that means we've got to make Reddit faster. The fourth one is making Reddit excellent, and this is about giving those rich experiences that the users want. So everything from video ... to the other media types, whether it's audio or making text on Reddit, work really amazingly. Then last is relevant, which is … not about personalizing to you, because we're super privacy-centric. Relevance is all about connecting you to the communities that you care about, the content you care about, and doing it in a way that continues to be privacy-centric. And yes, this set of five pillars … will guide us into the future.

Social platforms are struggling to stem the spread of misinformation and extremism. How does Reddit handle it?

We've got a layered content moderation model. We've, of course, got our sitewide policies, which guide how we deal with misinformation, and we've got our admin team that actually goes and makes sure that we enforce the sitewide policy. But then, if you go deeper into the layers and peel the onion here, you've got our communities. And the communities have norms and practices that they enforce.

For instance, we have communities where you need to verify that you are an attorney before you can be part of that community. We've got communities where you can only post pictures of cats standing up. It's really diverse, but each of those communities have norms in themselves. So think of that as 100,000 additional layers of moderation, and it's completely moderated by the community. In many cases, these moderators are really experts in their fields. Then, if you look in the center of how we look at things at Reddit, you have these 500 million users who tell us what they think about every single post.

You recently hired a vice president to oversee Reddit X, a new division focused on bold bets. What can we expect from Reddit X?

The team’s really working on a number of innovative projects, and with this philosophy of being centered around the user, focused around things that our users are already either trying to do on Reddit or have told us they want to do. I'll give you a couple of examples: Users oftentimes look to Reddit to have sort of real-time discussions about topics, but for the most part, Reddit is largely still asynchronous. We want to do more to support that real-time discussion, so one of the big pieces of this team is going to be just enabling live a lot more.

In the vein of Reddit being privacy-forward, one of the ways that people want to represent themselves on Reddit is through their avatar. Like, if you go look at my avatar, I have a cricket bat and a cricket ball in my hand as part of it. We're going to make it easier for communities to create gear and accessories for those avatars and trade with each other.

What does the future of Reddit look like to you?

I think the future of Reddit is really a deeper version to reflect what we've already got. Reddit is magical. It really helps people find belonging within the communities that they're part of. And creating those deep experiences means that we want to be able to enable those authentic conversations to happen in any way you want it to happen. So if that means that we have to enable that to happen in real-time ways, that's what we're going to do. If that means that it needs to happen in video, that's what we'll do.

What we want to do is really enable all of these communities to be able to do whatever they need to do on Reddit. Because right now, some of those things you have to go off Reddit in order to accomplish. Longer term, we want communities to be self-sustaining on Reddit.

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