It was a day that was meant to unite virtual friends in the actual world. But in Buffalo, it could have used a few more upvotes.
Saturday was the fourth annual Global reddit Meetup Day, an opportunity for users of reddit – the addictive social news website with thousands of “subreddit” forums for every imaginable topic – to step away from their computers and meet face-to-face. For every year’s Meetup Day, local redditors – as the site’s devoted users call themselves – organize hometown festivities through their city’s subreddit. Last year, there were nearly 400 local meetups, everywhere from New York City to Stockholm to Melbourne to Buffalo’s Delaware Park. In some larger cities, reddit meetups evolve into impromptu festivals, with dozens of redditors coming together for cookouts, potlucks and sports.
Last month, users on the Buffalo subreddit decided to hold this year’s meetup at 11 a.m. in River Fest Park, which was deemed a central location for local redditors. The page for the event told potential visitors: “This is pretty much a bring your own everything event. So, if you have a portable grill, and folding chairs and stuff, please be kind and bring them.”
But for all the discussions that went into the event, that communal energy was sparsely translated in the event itself, which coincided with the second day of the park’s Buffalo River Fest. For the event’s first hour, two redditors hung out in the designated meeting place, a triangular parking lot near River Fest Park. They were Randy Zingo, 23, who graduated from the University at Buffalo last year with a mechanical engineering degree, and Todd Feldmann, 34, a construction worker who said he skipped a “World of Warcraft” game for this event. The two knew each other’s reddit names – Zingo is 21n6y , Feldmann is sevenoneSICKs – and said that they had previously scheduled small meetups with other Buffalo redditors for drinks. As for this meetup, they didn’t have any major plans.
“There’s a bunch of people from reddit. There’s a reddit meetup today. End of story,” said Zingo, who brought a bag of chips and a Sam Adams six-pack.
After they finally decided to walk by the water, River Fest Park filled up a mostly middle-aged crowd, perusing food and craft tents for River Fest and seemingly oblivious to the other event scheduled for the day. One food vendor, when asked about the reddit event, cupped his ear and asked, “The read what event?”
Zingo and Feldmann were eventually joined by Alex Feim, a Binghamton University junior who said she is a “lurker” on the Buffalo subreddit but an infrequent poster. Carrying an empty bag with the Vans logo on it, Feim wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I just kind of figured I’d show up and see what’s going on, because I don’t have anything going on today,” she said.
As the three sat on the rocks, watching the water and munching chips, two other redditors stopped by: Jason Mendola (aka jconsumer), a 40-year-old South Buffalo resident who excitedly shared local history anecdotes before leaving, and a 27-year-old Amherst native in a Mario T-shirt who did not give his name, reasoning that he wanted to maintain his online anonymity. He brought homemade bacon jerky and Nutella cookies for the occasion.
Three hours into the meetup, there were no portable grills, no folding chairs and no more than four redditors present. Feldmann blamed the “stigma of the Internet” for the limited turnout. “People just don’t want to meet other people from the Internet,” he said. “They feign interest, but then they don’t show up.”
Still, on a Saturday afternoon, four local redditors who are otherwise strangers sat on the grass of River Fest Park, sharing bacon jerky, Nutella cookies and easy conversation. They told personal stories, discussed recent reddit posts and debated everything from gluten-free food to “Doctor Who” to Lloyd Taco Truck. In its amiable exchange of eclectic ideas, the afternoon felt like a subreddit brought to life.
“We just wanted to hang out, get to know each other, get outside,” Feldmann said. “I must admit, that’s a rarity with the Internet these days.”