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Why Reddit decided it was time to make its own official app

Reddit's new app, on iOS. (Courtesy of Reddit)
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Reddit on Thursday took a long-awaited step into the mobile world: There's now, finally, an official app for it. The company released its new app for iOS and Android, called "Reddit," which was built in-house to provide users a simple way to look at the complex site on their mobile devices.

The new app displays content in a “card view,” which is designed to get people into the content as quickly as possible. It also comes with several reading features, such as the ability to essentially fast-forward through a thread to get to the best stuff as quickly as possible.

This is the first time that the company has had an official app that it built from the ground up. There are several popular third-party Reddit apps, and even an official one that the company acquired several years ago called Alien Blue. But as the firm looked into revamping its branded mobile experience, it decided during the development process that it would be better to start from scratch, said Alex Le, Reddit's vice president of consumer product.

“This gets redditors [Reddit users] to their content and communities, and with as little extra fluff as we can get away with,” Le said.

So why push the app out now? Le said it has everything to do with how people are using the site. “We saw that Web traffic was 50 percent mobile,” he said. Plus, the company knew that people were actively searching for an app that's actually called “Reddit” in app stores — something the company just hadn’t offered yet.

The design team went to the community to get feature suggestions, asking Alien Blue users and others for ideas.

One feature that made it into the iOS version of the app is “speed read,” which Le said would be particularly useful for question-and-answer sessions such as the site’s popular AMA (Ask Me Anything) threads, in which one person — often a famous person — answers questions from the community. Applied here, the speed read button will let users zoom through a conversation and zero in on that celebrity’s comments, saving them quite a bit of scrolling.

Alien Blue users also suggested that the app include a night mode, which reverses the colors on their screens so that they won’t get a face full of glare when reading late at night.

Le said the company is also offering moderators of subreddits — smaller communities within Reddit — new tools to carry over customization options to the mobile app. For example, moderators would be able to display custom colors they have added to their subreddits to the mobile app.

Despite the release of the new app, Alien Blue will still be available for users, Le said. But the company's future engineering time and resources will be focused on the new app.

The new app comes at a time when the company has been very focused on introducing products designed to make the somewhat daunting — and more than occasionally unsavory — website more accessible to a general audience. In October, the company launched Upvoted, a magazine-like site with its own staff of writers who pluck some of the best stories from the community.

And on Wednesday, the company introduced a stronger blocking tool, allowing individual users to block other individual users across the site. The move was just one of the company's latest efforts to ensure that the Reddit community feels safer overall, perhaps in light of the controversy last summer leading up to the resignation of interim chief executive Ellen Pao — an episode that put a spotlight on the site’s worst harassment problems. Users who have decided to block a harasser, for example, will no longer see any posts from that user or any replies to the blocked person's comments.