With Reddit chat, Obama goes around press directly to voters

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How do you get President Obama to do a live Q&A with Reddit users? Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian told Peter Kafka, “There are quite a few redditors at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave and at the campaign HQ.” Interest in doing what in Redditese is called an AMA, or “Ask Me Anything,” Ohanian said, “started coming up from their side over the last year or so. A little while ago we randomly get a ping saying ‘POTUS is doing an AMA.’ ”

Reddit’s servers didn’t melt, mostly, and Obama stayed on message as the wild and woolly questions flew and Redditors got meme-y (Obama referenced one of those, too, saying his Reddit experience was “NOT BAD.”)

Obama tweeted this photo to prove he was the one answering questions.

Reddit GM Erik Martin told the Los Angeles Times’ Salvador Rodriguez why Reddit is better for users than, say, a traditional live chat:

“Your question can be seen by the president based on the votes of those in the community regardless of how many followers you have or if your question is picked by some sort of moderation team,” he said

News sites rushed to dress up Obama’s disciplined responses with curation. BuzzFeed used Reddity GIFs, The Washington Post collected the “Top five most awesome questions,” the Wall Street Journal noted the questions he didn’t answer, and Slate collected the “Reddit Questions That Obama Should Have Answered.”

Donna Tam noted the president’s Reddit appearance took place during the Republican National Convention.

Not only could it steal some thunder in the blogging world, the stunt jabs at the Republicans, who have struggled to keep up with Obama’s advances in campaigning technology.

Obama simultaneously gained some tech cred and went around the press, too. Redditors are wonderful at congratulating themselves, but Will Oremus says they’re not quite ready to replace the Fourth Estate yet. Obama “swung happily at a few softballs” and didn’t answer any tough questions.

In short, the president’s Reddit visit was no more illuminating than any other social-media debate or interview. No online interrogation has yet managed to eclipse the modest bar set by a standard TV sit-down, which at least has the virtue of forcing the candidate to engage repeatedly and in real time with a single, persistent questioner.

Reddit has been gaining attention as a news source since its use to cover the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting.

Related study: Obama campaign uses online media far better than Romney

Related analysis: Crowdsourcing an interview with the president” (Mathew Ingram/GigaOm)

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