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HomeLight agent review site and AgentMatch: what’s so different?

HomeLight, a real estate agent site offering agent transaction data and reviews, is backed by Google and Inman, offering a unique spin on agent reviews.

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HomeLight and AgentMatch offer agent transaction data to consumers

(AGENT/GENIUS) – Launched in 2012, HomeLight is a search engine for agents, or an agent resume, as founder Drew Uhler likes to describe it, offering a unique blend of real estate agent transaction data and consumer reviews, monetized by agent referral fees. Funded to the tune of $1.5 million by Google Ventures, Crosslink Capital, Innovation Endeavors, and unnamed angel investors, it is in the Inman Incubator program, and is to be showcased in the Startup Alley at Inman Connect in New York City in January 2014.

Three weeks ago, Inman News introduced AgentMatch, shaping the conversation by focusing squarely on the negative reactions from agents (AgentMatch is the new site by Realtor.com that provides listing agent transaction data for the last six months in a consumer search site with no referral fees for agents). In seven articles written by Inman News on the topic, primarily negative in nature, not once have they disclosed their affiliation with Inman Incubator company, HomeLight, a product that shows production levels, similarly to AgentMatch. It is possible that this is a repeated unintentional oversight by Inman News, assuming readers should already know the company’s financial relationships.

In the seven stories, HomeLight was first referenced by writer Paul Hagey as “Google-backed HomeLight,” a phrase later repeated in a story quote by Move Inc.’s CRO, Errol Samuelson, however no possible conflict of interest was disclosed by Hagey or fellow writer, Andrea V. Brambila in their stories.

In the seventh article, founder Brad Inman penned a piece called “Taking a stand on agent data,” failing to disclose his company’s affiliation to HomeLight, nor their long-term sponsorship agreement with Move, Inc. Negative reviews are a critical part of news coverage, but the problem here lies in the seven articles where no comparison was made to an Inman-supported competitor, and no disclosures offered, which is exactly how the news industry offers fair coverage and makes clear the possible conflicts of interest.

The reason we wrote about AgentMatch is not because Realtor.com sponsors a few of our events, but because it can’t be gamed by agents – the very reason we never covered HomeLight, yet another agent review site. The other reason we steered clear of HomeLight is because it is disconcerting for Google to have agent data, even if only transaction histories – imagine your entire transaction history as part of your Google+ profile or Google flips a switch on property data retrieval (they have the closing data, why not offer AVMs? or what if your productivity statistics have an impact on your search engine rankings?).

This is all pure speculation and educated guesses, and at this point Google is only an investor, but the point is that agents have no control over the final resting place of their data when entrusted to third parties, whereas Realtor.com’s ultimate responsibility is to real estate professionals under their operating agreement with the National Association of Realtors.

The angst is real

We believe that angst among real estate professionals is very real, but in large part, it is being guided by an Inman argument, and framed in a way to exclude comparison to a product with similar functionality, fanning the flames toward AgentMatch and away from Inman Incubator and Inman Connect Startup Alley participant, HomeLight. It remains curious that when HomeLight launched and Inman covered it extensively, there was no controversy or outrage from the real estate community, creating the perception that the introduction of AgentMatch was designed to incite controversy, potentially providing cover to and benefiting HomeLight.

Getting to know HomeLight

The landing page touts that you can find the “perfect agent based on expertise,” stating that they have two million real estate agents in their database, serving 34 markets, a far cry from AgentMatch’s two pilot MLSs which allows no reviews to influence their algorithm. Let’s take a photo tour of how HomeLight works. Click to enlarge any photo below, as we take you through how the site works. We walk through a search for an agent in Austin, where we are headquartered:

Searching for an agent – method 1

There appear to be two common methods for finding an agent on the site, and one method is by selecting a popular city in the footer of the main page. Here’s how it works:

homelight-1

Below features the “top agents,” and the top two are very well liked top producers in the city that happen to be team leaders. This type of result is one of the main objections agents have against AgentMatch, yet here we are, looking at HomeLight which was put in a positive light by industry news writers.

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And if you’re an agent, you can claim your profile

In the top corner of the agent result, the system urges agents to claim their profile, like so:
homelight-7

Finding an agent – method 2

The more common method is searching immediately from the front page for a city and narrowing it down. Let’s take a tour of the second method:
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So where do they get the data?

In order to get the data, HomeLight is partnered with brokers of record to pull MLS data, but HomeLight does not operate as a brokerage. The transaction data allows the algorithm to narrow down agents for the consumer, and appears to go back as far as 2009.

Reviews improve agents’ rankings on the site

The second part of the algorithm, and apparently a substantial part of the algorithm by all accounts, is reviews that agents receive through the site, so HomeLight is urging agents (especially new agents) to solicit reviews from all clients, which HomeLight says can improve agents’ rankings on the site. HomeLight says they verify reviews, either through the agent directly or by commenters’ claimed address, which they can cross reference with transaction data.

It is not a perfect system, however, and can potentially be gamed (Joe at 123 Main St never reviewed his agent, so an agent can go in and falsify a review, say they’re Joe, claim 123 Main St, and affirm it’s legit when HomeLight asks). Agents that disagree with the accuracy of a review can appeal and HomeLight promises to investigate the matter, which is tremendously helpful, but tricky – a pothole Yelp stepped into several years ago.

Show me the money

The monetization strategy is much like other agent rating sites, wherein referral fees are paid at closing by agents who receive a lead through the site, but the company will not publicly say how much these referral fees are, as they likely vary by market.

Like other sites that match agents and consumers, there are holes, for example, agents that focus on off-market listings (pocket listings, and sometimes new home construction) aren’t given credit and can lose out to competitors, and team leaders are often given credit for the group’s closings even though a handful of agents touched the transaction (as seen above in the list of top listing agents in Austin), and team members’ numbers dwindle in comparison.

But unlike many competitors, HomeLight offers an opt out process so agents can remove themselves from their website, but not necessarily from data stored on HomeLight servers. This highlights, yet again, the uncertainty attached to a third party being given industry data.

Our only dog in this race are members, and our policy has always been, when in doubt, we default to the consumer if the benefit to membership is unclear, and when it benefits the consumer, it ultimately benefits the membership. That said, we have never supported blindly giving data to third parties when arms of the membership (like Move, Inc.) which are beholden to members, can provide the same service.

Update: on November 29th, we redacted the phrase “labeled as news rather than opinion” from this editorial.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Paceride

    November 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I have a big big problem with the agent review part. Apparently, I am supposed to track down my buyers and sellers and ask them to write reviews for multiple websites now? I’m supposed to do it for Zillow, Trulia, now these sites? They can’t just submit ONE review, they have to submit the reviews multiple times. I know some people send letters to my manager saying what a good job I did, unsolicited by me. Other people may not be inclined tobut i’m supposed to ask them to submit multiple reviews. Sorry, I think it’s b.s., and as usual, meant to separate me from my hard earned commission dollars.

    • RealtyMinded

      November 30, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      And these are the largest companies holding agent reviews currently, there are many other smaller sites that want agent reviews and if agents agree to play the game and eventually pay to keep profiles in all of these companies there will be many more extending their hand for a handout. Additionally they will be charging you to get your own leads for your own listings (otherwise they will sell them) as Zillow, Realtor.com and many others do currently.

  2. Morgan Brown

    November 29, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Hi Lani, we always welcome the feedback on Inman News, however I wanted to correct a few items for the record. It would be great if you could update your post with the facts.

    1. HomeLight is an Inman Incubator company but Inman News has no financial interest in HomeLight. We do not take equity stakes in the incubator companies and the incubator companies pay no fees to Inman News.

    2. HomeLight is speaking at Real Estate Connect, but so are people on the other side of the agent data issue including Mark Willis, the CEO of Keller Williams, who has come out strongly in opposition to the idea.

    3. Inman News has many customers (advertisers, sponsors, exhibitors, members and attendees of our conferences) on both sides of the agent data issue. Our coverage has been careful to balance all points of views. See below for a list of news stories over the last couple of weeks that discuss the issue in depth.

    4. Neither Brad Inman or Inman News is an investor in any of the incubator companies (such as HomeLight) or any other real estate related company.

    5. Brad Inman did not endorse any of the companies that offer agent data programs his article https://www.inman.com/2013/11/27/taking-a-stand-on-agent-data/. He did endorse the idea of exposing agent performance data and his article was clearly described as an opinion piece by the publisher.

    6. Inman News takes seriously the separation of church and state (editorial and advertising). Our independent editorial team headed up by Matt Carter is always very diligent about giving no preference in coverage to companies who may advertise or do business with Inman News.

    Lani, we’re friends on Facebook, and conversed just recently about Inman’s Connect conference. You could’ve reached out to me or anyone on the team for clarification ahead the story to ensure it was factual. I would’ve been happy to answer any questions you had at that time. For future stories, feel free to reach out to us at any time when there are questions about how we operate.

    Morgan
    Inman News

    A selection of articles on Agent Match over the last two weeks:

    https://www.inman.com/wire/agent-launches-change-org-petition-to-stop-realtor-coms-agentmatch/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/22/franchisor-keller-williams-realty-strongly-urges-agents-to-oppose-realtor-coms-agentmatch-tool/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/19/realtor-com-seeks-more-agent-feedback-on-controversial-agentmatch-ranking-platform/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/15/can-realtor-coms-bold-experiment-with-agentmatch-survive-agent-backlash/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/13/neighborcity-hits-move-with-cease-and-desist-letter-over-agentmatch-tool/
    https://www.inman.com/2013/11/11/errol-samuelson-realtor-com-experimenting-with-agent-matching-tool-powered-by-mls-data/

    • Lani Rosales

      November 29, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      Morgan, thank you for taking the time to craft a thoughtful response. After further consideration, I have removed the phrase “labeled as news rather than opinion,” as I consider that a fair update as it has no bearing on this editorial whatsoever.

      I never said Inman News or Brad Inman takes an equity stake, but Inman News’ Incubator is invested in HomeLight’s success to the tune of “$100,000 in-kind promotional support from Inman News” and a bevy of other valuable assets according to the Incubator website, none of which was ever mentioned in any of the seven articles related to AgentMatch, including Brad’s editorial.

      We’ve never said Inman wasn’t fair, but in seven articles, true fairness would have been disclosing that Inman News was involved with an AgentMatch competitor that has a distinctly similar offering.

  3. franklyrealty

    December 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    “it can’t be gamed by agents” Oh my oh My. Boy can it be gamed. Might have inspired a blog post. HOW TO GAME AGENT MATCH!

    • Lani Rosales

      December 3, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      Well, the truth is, as you and I have spoken about (and I agree with you) that technically, the MLS can be manipulated by agents, so the MLS can be manipulated, but as of publication of this editorial, AgentMatch can’t directly be gamed.

      We’ve talked about it over the years that agents CAN manipulate days on market, and game the MLS; do you think there’s a way to stop it aside from continuing to fight against it in public? I hear you might have something in the works to address it in your market, but that’s just one market – what should the rest of the nation do?

      I love this topic, it’s so fascinating (and I know you and I have and can talk about it endlessly)!

      • Tennessee Real Estate

        December 4, 2013 at 12:50 am

        Lani if Agent Match gets it data from the MLS and the MLS data can be gamed it logically follows that Agent Match data can therefore be gamed. The more I think about the more I like the Houston solution. It is based on customer reviews agents can opt out but if they are in they are “all in” meaning all reviews are posted.
        As Jerry Mcquire said “Follow the money” this is not about helping the consumer or agent this is about getting hits and selling ad space back to agents.

        • Lani Rosales

          December 4, 2013 at 9:47 am

          Technically, yes, even real estate data can be gamed, but you cannot log into AgentMatch directly (as of publication) and change data or upload your own. Therefore, yes, you can game the MLS, but you can’t directly game AgentMatch. Directly.

          • franklyrealty

            December 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm

            I can locally fix the issue on my IDX by calling out those that relist or drop the price a minute before going under contract (so they can be 100%). One thing Agent Match can do is focus on % of Original list and not the list price after price drops. That will cure part of the issue.

  4. Lawrence Schrenk

    May 26, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    I’m afraid that homelite.com appears to be a scam. I went through the process and was matched with 10 agents. Not one of them sold houses in my area!

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Opinion Editorials

Apprenticeships: How focused training can jumpstart your career

(EDITORIAL) Apprenticeships have been a buzzword recently, but if you haven’t looked into it, we asked the experts to tell us all about them.

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When President Trump announced he’d be opening up more federal dollars for apprenticeship programs to improve the economy, business owners’ ears perked up. That interest is now trickling down to employees, especially people considering a new career or a pivot.

I had a meaningful conversation last year with the folks behind Digital Creative Institute (an apprenticeship program that seeks to bridge the gap between higher education and job experience in the digital marketing field) not only to learn about their plans to impact the central Texas market, but how apprenticeships could alter the workforce in years to come. Will the model supplant internships? What of coding schools or hell, even higher education? If you ask Europeans, they’ll probably say yes, while Americans are new to this old term.

To dig into how apprenticeships could speed up a career move, we reached back out to the folks at DCI and asked them to spell it out. Alexis Bonilla from their leadership team penned the following:

Maybe you graduated with a B.A. in theater, started a blog, and found a great love for marketing. It could’ve been that you had a passion for video, but instead of finding yourself creating films, you found yourself telling a brand’s story. Or, by some stretch of the imagination, you went from scientist, to teacher, to social media strategist. All of these are real stories that belong to real people. The two things they have in common:

  1. They all started somewhere completely different from where they would end up.
  2. They all used apprenticeships to transform their careers.

The key is to find that one thing you love to do and run after it full force – because the truth is – you’re probably going to spend over 90,000 hours of your life working at it. Only about 30 percent of adults are actually engaged or excited about their work. You can either spend that huge portion of your life doing something out of “because you have to” or learn how you can invest in a career that will keep you on your toes – constantly learning and actively growing.

Digital platforms are always changing, and lifelong learning is becoming absolutely necessary. If you think about it, most Chief Marketing Officers among companies today didn’t start out by being formally trained in automation software, paid search, Google Analytics, or other digital tools. That’s because much of it didn’t exist when they started their careers. They most likely engaged in a very intentional learning process or self-styled apprenticeship. Their willingness to learn turned them into the best in their field, and the same can happen for you.

We’ve identified a few myths that might be holding you back from standing out among your peers and how you can come out on top!

Myth: You can only find a position in the field you majored in.
Truth: Your major doesn’t determine your career path.

Only 27 percent of college grads actually have a job related to what they studied in college. The fact of the matter is this – a lot of people don’t want to continue their learning once they have their Bachelor’s degree. Typically, if they do, they pursue graduate school, whose students often face challenges that are similar to what undergraduate students experience upon graduation.

This whole idea of “once and done” is over, to the extent that leaders in our government are recognizing it and working on implementing new, innovative ways of learning in the United States.

A few ways you might work on reinventing yourself as you establish or change your career:

  • Start freelancing – We know that working for free doesn’t sound great on paper, but the portfolio you’ll come out with is all the ROI you’ll need. When you have a variety of experience, whether it be a branding project you pick up, a video you edit, or a logo you make for a friend, employers recognize that as experience. Just be sure to pick up projects that are relevant to the direction you’re looking to take your career.
  • Perfect your resume.
  • Turn your work into an awesome portfolio – It’s one thing to do the work and another thing to organize it in a way that is visually appealing to an employer. Around 53 percent of employers say that your resume is not enough. You’re going to need that extra differentiator, so invest in crafting the perfect portfolio to have a place for all of that hard work. We recommend Pathbrite for an easy digital portfolio experience.
  • Connect with a learning community – Whether it be early post-grad or a drastic career change, apprenticeships are a perfect way to engage with a community that pushes you and challenges you. And what if we told you apprenticeships can take the place of graduate school?

So you’ve probably been asking yourself: “What is apprenticeship?”

The historical or traditional definition for an apprentice is a person legally bound to a master craftsman in order to learn a trade.

Think professions such as carpenter, electrician or welder. But those were the old days – apprenticeship is now applied to all professions and modern skills.

Apprenticeship has evolved into more of a partnership: where one person learns a trade or skill by working with someone more experienced. Think of an internship, where you’re at a company to accelerate your learning while you’re still in school, but more advanced, long-term, and with deeper levels of commitment. Instead of being at a school, you’re at a full-time paid position, applying your learning hands-on with the support of a learning coach, mentors, and instructors.

Myth: Between my Bachelor’s degree and staying up to date with online articles, I’m already set to advance my career.
Truth: Coaching and mentoring are two of the best investments you can make for your career after professors are out of the picture.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of you have had a coach of some type in your lifetime. Whether it be a sports coach, a choir instructor, an invested teacher, or even a driven parent, you’ve had someone in your circle of trust that pushed you toward your goals. Well, a career coach isn’t much different.

It’s easy to come up with reasons as to why you don’t need one. “I’m too old for a coach”, “it costs time and money that I don’t have”, “I’ve been through college and got all the help I needed”. You can make all of the excuses you can think of, but it’s pretty hard to argue with the results.

What does the development process look like with a career coach?

You define tangible goals, your coach guides you through practical ways to achieve those goals, and after a defined period of time you evaluate your progress. The retention rate is extremely high. Generally, people are extremely happy with what they gain from having a career coach. Fully 96 percent of people who were coached say they would repeat the process and 86 percent said they at least made their investment back.

What’s holding you back from identifying a coach or mentor and reaching out for support?

Myth: Post-college education isn’t necessary to be successful in my career.
Truth: Rigorous self education, graduate school, and innovative learning like digital apprenticeships are essential.

Continued learning and specialized training are valuable to your career. They are so valuable, in fact, that multiple governments are either investing, or beginning to invest, in new, innovative models.

For example, if you’ve been to the UK, you’ll know that apprenticeships are a big deal. A huge percentage of workers develop their skills through an apprentice-like experience. Since 2004, the U.K. has been actively creating more apprenticeships through supporting employers. The huge success of apprenticeship programs led to the creation of a National Apprenticeship Levy that requires almost all employers to offer apprenticeships.

AAA Apprenticeships has successfully scaled their digital apprenticeships to serve 6,000 apprentices in 22 locations across the country – now it’s time to apply that to the U.S.

Why don’t we have a similar model in the U.S.? It’s harder for businesses to start apprenticeships on their own when it isn’t their core competency – but apprenticeship programs are popping up to fill that gap.

The Obama Administration earmarked $100 million to create more examples of modern apprenticeships. The intention is to fuel more success stories through individual programs around the country; creating positive momentum for a larger movement and scaled strategy.

President Trump recently announced a $200 million plan, nearly doubling what was invested last term, to create more apprenticeships.

This is just the beginning of a major movement to make marketplace aligned learning more accessible. But don’t wait for some new national program to support your learning path, start owning your learning today by outlining a strategy to continuously develop yourself into a highly sought after digital expert.

So don’t wait. This is for anyone that finds themselves in a place to pursue a new job or launch their career. Ask yourself, “What’s next?” Take that step – it’s worth it.

If it’s something you’re interested in, the first digital marketing specific apprenticeship in the U.S. has launched – and right here in Austin, TX. Digital Creative Institute’s next Austin cohort launches in January 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

Is working less the key to productivity?

(EDITORIAL) It’s that time of year where we obsess about our habits and productivity, but maybe we’re overthinking the whole thing…

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The “work smarter, not harder” mantra has for a long time been, in consensus, about a simple truth: the massive amount of work that we have is kicking your productivity in a few ways, for example:

  • Our never ending work load is further exacerbated from technology that removes the boundary of work and home.
  • The addiction of multi-tasking makes us feel good, but for the most part leads to massive inefficiencies because our brains aren’t designed to do that – they just switch rapidly (and clumsily) between different activities. A little primer is here.
  • We have competing roles and priorities – spouses, caretakers, gig economy participants, careers, business owners, realtors, clients, professionals, friends, dog owners, cat servants – that engage us and that give us more and more to do.

And the never ending work spiral leads to a number of troubles – inferior work, emotional breakdowns, inappropriate Netflix procrastination, sleep deprivation, burnout, relationship troubles, and more. Basically – it sucks for your health.

Having too much to do, sadly, for many of us is a fact of life. There are a few ways to help get around it by working less (aka streamline your efforts):

  • Have a to-do list – they are awesome. Put it in a planner, use outlook or Google Calendar, etc.
  • Use a science driven list like an Eisenhower Matrix! What’s that you say? Glad you asked: an Eisenhower matrix pulls from the wisdom of Dwight Eisenhower and encourages you consider what is Urgent (as in what requires urgency, immediate attention), and what is Important (tasks that contribute to our long term). It’s a simple 2*2 Grid. Basically it helps move away from the idea that we conflate urgent with important, and we are basically always in a highly reactive and “shocked mode.” I like this tool because it’s a great way to prioritize – lean more about it from our buddies at Trello.
  • Engage delegation and love it. Can you pass it on to someone else? Can you use it as an educational or teaching tool? Does it have to be your mess?
  • Eliminate things that don’t bring value – in one of my favorite books “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life,” Mark Manson puts it brilliantly: What problems do you want to have? What things can we get rid of? We do things out of obligation or a feeling of “I must” that doesn’t correspond to reality.
  • Embrace automation. Whether it’s auto-bill pay or automatic deletion or automatic lists, if you can automate it and it gets the quality you want – engage it. If you use social media a lot – can you schedule your posts? Can you automatically reblog content? Or go crazy, get a Roomba.
  • Practice self-care, dude. Eat better. Go workout. Walk in the middle of the day. Get on your workplace wellness plan. Sleep. Repeat healthy behaviors.

In general, the assertion that we do too much is very true.

Most of that comes from the overwhelming sense of “now” that we experience. Take a breath and explore what you can do to either eliminate, delegate, or prioritize effectively so you can spend more time doing what’s important, and maybe eventually, we can marathon TV shows guilt free more often.

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Opinion Editorials

If Reddit goes IPO, will it have to shed its soul?

(EDITORIAL) Reddit is known as a firebrand, a bastion of free speech, but if they go public, will they be able to remain as they are now?

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Reddit, the eighth-most popular website on the Internet, is reportedly considering an IPO. As a site valued at over 1.8 billion dollars, this is great news for the company itself – but how much of Reddit will remain if the IPO goes through?

Reddit’s history is steeped in controversy, from minor incidents such as invasion of privacy and a few creepily quirky community members to allegations of child pornography and egregious hate speech. While Reddit’s policy has allowed it to tighten posting restrictions regarding the latter two, the fact remains that Reddit – for all its usefulness – is viewed by many as a ticking time bomb.

An IPO would certainly lend back to Reddit a degree of credibility not seen since its inception, but the problem is that Reddit itself (the haven of free speech and original content that made it so popular in the first place) might not survive the offering. Given the platform’s controversial past, many believe it likely that stakeholders would move to tighten further the restrictions on the platform, ultimately ending a significant era in Reddit’s history.

Admittedly, Reddit has come a long way since its early days of supporting user-created content regardless of persuasion: this past year saw entire subreddits shut down for violating the terms of use regarding hate speech, and the platform certainly has cracked down on illegal and abusive content. Unfortunately, the history might be too much to shake off going forward, which is why we think that Reddit’s branding won’t be a part of the final IPO.

The platform’s developers’ dedication to free speech and truth-seeking is what makes Reddit so fantastic, and that’s not liable to change – it’s the most marketable aspect of the site, after all – but perhaps the rationale behind going public lies in a sense of duty rather than routine. 2017 has seen some of the most reprehensible instances of false reporting and deliberate misguidance in recent history; maybe Reddit’s team feels that they can provide a stable news platform at the cost of some personality.

At any rate, the IPO itself isn’t set in stone, and is unlikely to take place for quite some time. As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if Reddit embraces its past, or sheds it altogether.

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