Bill Gates won the Internet with his reddit AMA. Here’s how.

Once upon a time, Bill Gates was a controversial figure in tech circles. Critics painted Microsoft as a monopolistic money printing machine, intent on squashing competition with Gates as the mastermind behind its domineering tactics.

But times have changed. Since he stepped back from the company that made him famous and became one of the most significant charitable givers the world has ever seen, Gates has became more a goofy father figure than a sinister tycoon.

And on Monday, the Microsoft founder (and The Switch's pick for the Nobel Peace Prize) did a reddit "Ask Me Anything," or AMA, that won the Internet. Here's how.

Before things had even started, Gates's team posted a "frequently asked questions" video. Using stop motion animation and what looks like a lot of construction paper, the short clip addressed three myths about him -- including the ever popular "it's not worth Bill Gates's time to stop and pick up a $100" meme. (Spoiler: He would still pick it up... and invest it in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)

 

During the actual AMA, Gates answered a fair number of questions addressing everything from his new role at Microsoft and his personal tablet choice (unsurprisingly, a Surface) to the Gates Foundation's health-care efforts and vaccine truthers. ("In all countries vaccine rumors seem to always get ahead of vaccine facts. This is unfortunate since it has meant measles and pertussis deaths in communities where enough kids don't get vaccinated.")

And Gates updated the main post with proof featuring the reddit alien and a perfectly chosen meme addressing the number of redditors commenting during the mid-day online Q&A session.


(Bill Gates)

Even after Gates had to abandon the Q&A, he left the online masses with yet another video -- this time of him gallivanting around with the reddit alien to the tune of Harry Nilsson's "Best Friend."

 

Reddit is no stranger to celebrity publicity tours, although they sometimes go off-kilter like the disastrous Woody Harrelson Rampart AMA. But the amount of polish and preparation put into the AMA by the Gates team -- not one, but two, professionally made videos, along with pre-planned memes -- is pretty extraordinary.

However, Gates also took his first reddit AMA last February pretty seriously: It, too, came complete with a pre-Q&A video.

 

And a meme that proved he didn't take himself too seriously.


(Bill Gates)

The strategy paid off: The Internet ate it up both times, with each AMA racking up thousands of karma points and comments. And to think that Gates used to be such a tech boogeyman that Slashdot used a graphic of Bill Gates as a Borg from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to identify Microsoft stories.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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