Reddit CEO Resigns, Alexis Ohanian Returns As Chairman

If there’s one constant in life, it’s change, and the fourth quarter of 2014 has brought quite a bit of change for Reddit, the massively popular aggregation site that could.

So here’s some more news: Reddit CEO Yishan Wong has resigned, COO Ellen Pao has become interim CEO and co-founder Alexis Ohanian has returned to the company he founded in 2005 to fill the full-time executive chairman role. Ohanian tells me that hopefully Pao will stay long-term.

According to a blog post by investor Sam Altman, Wong resigned due to a disagreement about the price and location of a new Reddit office: “To be clear, though, we didn’t ask or suggest that he resign — he decided to,” Altman wrote.

Indeed, Ohanian’s announcement post reveals that the new Reddit office will be in San Francisco, and that the RedditGifts team will be moving there. The head of that team, Dan McComas, will become SVP of product.

Reddit has become kind of a big deal lately, having raised $50 million in Series B on a $500 million valuation led by Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital, with Peter Thiel, Ron Conway, Jared Leto, Joshua Kushner, Jessica Livingston, Kevin and Julia Hartz and Snoop Dogg participating. Basically the “Fantasy Football” of startup investors. It’s also grown from 35 million uniques a month in 2011 to 175 million uniques (and 5 billion monthly page views) and acquired the largest mobile Reddit aggregator, Alien Blue.

But with scale comes growing pains, most notably “The Fappening,” a release of celebrity nudes that called the site’s morals and ethics policies into question, and a brief controversy around Yishan Wong’s comments to a former employee.

When I asked Ohanian about how he thought “the Fappening” was handled, and how he looked at other offensive subreddits like /r/cutedeadcorpses, he acknowledged that the latter incident had taught the team quite a bit.

“The vast majority of the content is benign or good. The 175 million people who use Reddit overwhelmingly use it for good,” he said. “The important thing for us is to develop tech that allows the site to flourish, but also allows the best of the site to come through. And users need to feel safe using the platform, and that’s hard to figure out. I’m confident we’re going to figure this out. We have an opportunity to really set a standard.”

When asked when we, users and readers, would know what that standard was, Ohanian told me it would be done in “months.”

Ohanian also told me that Reddit draws the line on legality, which is why particularly nasty subreddits like the one linked to above still exist.

“Content like that is offensive,” he said. “That goes without saying. They are the product of giving everyone a printing press. While it is legal, it is offensive. This is what we need to figure out over the next couple of months. ”

When asked how they were figuring it out, new CEO Pao said it was all still very new. “It’s too early to talk about right now.” When asked how she saw the next couple of months shaping up for Reddit, Pao said, “[It will be] bringing people together, continuing to make progress, and working together a new team with Alexis and Dan to push Reddit forward.”

For someone who remembers when Digg “killed” Reddit, it’s pretty amazing to see it become the force it has. But with that comes great responsibility (Reddit has said it will give a portion of equity to its community), and it now has to grow up.