Reddit: An Online Window into Québec

Reddit: An Online Window into Québec

LiQ_Mag_Mar_2015_coverThis article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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by Mitch Vandenborn

When I decided to move to Québec City, finding a place to live was almost an afterthought.

First I turned to online classifieds, typing out responses to ads for roommates with my kindergarten French. Days passed and I got no responses, so I sent more.

With about a month left before I was scheduled to move, and feeling increasingly desperate, I turned to Reddit.

Reddit is a website where users share text, photos and links on pages called “subreddits”, organized around different interests. Although it is popularly known as a site for cat photos and humour, it has pages dedicated to cities and localities around the world, including the province of Québec and Montréal. For me, an average millennial averse to face-to-face communication or (God forbid!) picking up a phone, turning to a semi-anonymous online community seemed like the best course of action.

I pleaded my case on Québec’s subreddit, praying that someone in Québec City would be looking for a roommate come September. At first I received a couple of responses from users, wishing me good luck and saying my French wasn’t all that bad. A day or so later, a private message popped up in my inbox from a guy who was moving to Montréal at the end of August. Since his roommate needed someone new, he suggested I come check out his apartment.

That weekend I took the train up from Ottawa, met my roommate-to-be and toured the place where I’d be living.

When friends ask me how I found my apartment, they often react skeptically. They ask, “Isn’t it a bit weird that you found it through a random website?” But the notion that this approach is strange is fading. For many people, Reddit is an Internet staple, the place for getting advice, discussing news and sharing local humour.

An online commons

Since its creation in 2005, Reddit has become one of the most popular sites on the Internet, with 174 million monthly visitors in November 2014. Users have the power to vote for content they like, which brings popular content to the top of the page, and cast votes against what they don’t, sending it down.

Québec is well-represented on the site, with different pages for discussing its cities, its politics and more. Its two biggest subreddits are for the city of Montréal (more than 20 000 subscribers) and for the province of Québec (8 800 subscribers). Aside from the two largest ones, there are smaller subreddits for cities like Sherbrooke and Gatineau, and for the many universities across the province. Because of the size of Montréal’s subreddits, there are smaller subreddits for particular topics within the city, like cycling or the Habs. According to Reddit’s blog, Montréal’s subreddit is the most active subreddit for a “non-English-speaking” city, a debatable label for many.

The type of content that gets posted to each of Québec and Montréal’s subreddits varies. Montréal’s page is diverse in content; there are posts about events, news stories and questions from locals and tourists. In contrast, news stories and related discussions tend to be the most common posts on the province-wide page.

Both subreddits are bilingual and promote themselves as such. French is the most common language on the province’s subreddit, whereas the content on Montréal’s page is closer to a 50/50 split between French and English.

LiQ_Mag_Sub_BannerA place for advice

On both subreddits users are discussing moving to or visiting the province.

Jadene Peters, who recently moved to Montréal from Edmonton, said reaching out to the community before she moved helped her. “I had never moved anywhere where I didn’t know anyone before,” she said, adding that being able to get advice before her move helped her feel more confident. “Doing just a basic Google search, you might not find the answers you’re looking for,” she said. “Reddit gives you that option to get more specific or personal advice.”

For some Montréalais, the subreddit has become a place to get opinions on how to run their businesses.

Dentist Dan Munteanu has been active on Montréal’s subreddit for four years and has gone back to the community many times, including when he was starting his dental practice. “I wanted to get a feel of what people wanted from a dental centre and what I could do to make the best experience at the dentist possible,” he said. Munteanu said he believes Montréal’s subreddit, and those of other cities, play a valuable role as online communities. “I like that it brings people that have very little in common together,” Munteanu said. “It allows people in large cities to have a voice and to see what others are thinking about issues that matter.”

A platform for debate

Although both groups are generally eager to help out their members, there are issues that go with the territory of being an online discussion community. When controversial topics play out in the news, they also play out on Reddit, with users gathering in the comments section to offer their take on the story.

An interesting example is the student protests of 2012. On the pages for Montréal, Québec, and Canada (which today has more than 165,000 subscribers), the comments section of each new story gave rise to a mélange of users who supported the demonstrations, opposed them, or were simply curious about what was going on. Comments could be detailed, point-by-point arguments for or against, but sometimes they were just meant to inflame. Above it all, the silent majority of users managed the discussion through the same system that governs the content: voting up the comments they like and voting down the ones they don’t. Even though it was common for the arguments to turn nasty, Reddit as a platform to talk about contentious issues was a unique experience.

An online window

When I finished moving into my apartment in September, I opened my laptop and logged onto Reddit, looking back and forth from the computer screen to the window. I could see a Chez Ashton not far from my apartment and, hungry from the move, I started getting ready to walk over. Just before I logged off, I saw a post from a few weeks earlier asking who has the best poutine in Québec City. “Conseillez-moi!” the poster asked, with an addendum in parentheses: “sauf du Ashton.”

As I looked over the list of places to eat and their pros and cons, I knew there was still a lot more I was going to learn about my new home from Reddit.

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About Author

Mitch Vandenborn

Originally from southern Ontario, Mitch Vandenborn moved to Quebec City in September 2014 to improve his French. It's still a work in a progress. Mitch studied journalism at Carleton University, Ottawa and has worked in writing and communications for several years. He's also a frequent Tweeter: @mitchvandy

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