On Wednesday, users of the social-news site Reddit knew something was afoot when "the front page seemed to slow," and "individual pages were bringing back the 'over capacity' error message," says Josh Wolford at WebProNews. "And then, out of nowhere, a link shot up to the top of the front page — 'I am Barack Obama, President of the United States — AMA.'" The surprise "Ask Me Anything" session, in which Obama fielded questions from Reddit users, caused the site to momentarily crash as thousands of people flooded his AMA page. However, the site came back up and Obama was able to answer 10 questions in a 45-minute session. Here, five takeaways from Obama's AMA appearance:
1. The timing was no coincidence
Obama's Reddit session came just "as thousands of politicians, delegates, and reporters swarmed Tampa for the Republican National Convention," says Jenna Wortham at The New York Times. Obama wanted to make "sure that the Republican event didn't monopolize the media landscape," says Joanna Slater at Canada's The Globe and Mail. And in marked contrast to his opponent Mitt Romney, whom liberals have accused of trying to take America back to the 1950s, Obama "cemented his reputation as a technologically inclined leader," says Prachi Gupta at Salon.
2. Obama took a risk…
"Reddit's AMA format is famously unruly and free-wheeling," says Peter Kafka at All Things D, and the Q&A could have easily turned anarchic. Previous celebrities who have participated in AMA have been bombarded with attacks, and, during Obama's session, users were "crazily refreshing the page to see if all the racists would come out," says Adrian Chen at Gawker. But Reddit's users were on their best behavior, and even the zanier questions ("What is in Area 51?") were pretty mild.
3. …But he took the easiest questions
"Unfortunately 'ask me anything' is not the same as 'I'll answer anything,'" says Erik Kain at Forbes. Obama remained "studiously on-message," says Kafka, criticizing super PACs, touting his support for small businesses, and praising the troops. (In a moment of scripted levity, Obama did promise to release the recipe for the White House's craft beer.) In fact, "the Reddit AMA is a terrible format for extracting information from a politician," says Alexis C. Madrigal at The Atlantic. "Instead of using the stiffness and formality of the [mainstream media] to drive his message home, Obama simply used the looseness and casual banter of Reddit to drive his message home."
4. The White House has some Redditors
It wasn't hard getting Obama on Reddit, co-founder Alexis Ohanian tells Kafka, since "there are quite a few redditors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." Obama's sign-off from the Reddit session ("By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience — NOT BAD!") is a reference to a Reddit meme called "Not Bad Obama."
5. It was a huge hit
Obama's Reddit appearance was met with an "internet explosion" and "tweets of glee," says Chen. Team Romney could never have pulled this off — when his campaign saw Twitter mentions of Obama's "AMA," they probably assumed it was "another meeting between the president and the American Medical Association," jokes Kain. But let's face it, says Chen: "All Obama has to do to make nerds swoon is sit at a MacBook like he probably does every day and log onto a website."