Google tried to buy Reddit in 2005 -- but its founders didn't want to become Googlers

Alexis ohanianLara O’Reilly/Business InsiderAlexis Ohanian, speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon.

Google attempted to acquire Reddit back in the site’s early days in 2005, cofounder Alexis Ohanian said at a press conference at Web Summit in Lisbon on Thursday.

In response to a question from Business Insider about why the deal never happened, Ohanian said that the deal broke down because he and cofounder Steve Huffman didn’t want to become Googlers.

When Google got in touch, Ohanian and Huffman were both 22-years-old and had only just graduated from college at the University of Virginia.

Google had proposed using Reddit to power the comments sections on its properties. Google acquired YouTube in 2006 — and Ohanian said Google had wanted to use Reddit for this purpose on the video site too.

Ohanian said: “We had just graduated from UVA, and four or five months later we had Chris Sacca [who then served as Google’s head of special initiatives, but went on to become a billionaire investor, having made angel investments in Photobucket and Twitter] … which was pretty cool.”

Ohanian declined to reveal how much money Reddit turned down, but said the idea was that the deal was supposed to be an acqui-hire.

“The reason it didn’t go through … you know, at that time it was just me and Steve. We had raised $82,000 in total at that point. We thought that was amazing, we were going to live off that for years, that was great — we didn’t think about hiring anyone, which was dumb. The offer was incredibly tempting,” Ohanian said.

But the decision came down to one question: “Do we really want to become Google employees?”

Ohanian said: “We weren’t big enough to justify a YouTube-style acquisition, where you do your own thing and have your own little world to operate. We were two dudes in an apartment: Do we want to become Google employees? As amazing as those perks were in 2005 — Google was the place to work — it wasn’t something we wanted to do quite yet.”

A Google spokesperson told Business Insider the company does not comment on speculation.

In September this year, YouTube overhauled its comments section by adding moderators and starting to thread conversations to make them easier to follow.

Reddit Alexis OhanianGetty ImagesAlexis Ohanian.

Ohanian said he hopes that YouTube continues to improve its comment section, which he described as “pretty terrible, really bad” because they lack context.

Using a sports example, he explained that on Reddit, posts around a match between two soccer teams usually have three separate conversations: Fans of the home team, fans of the away team, and neutral sports fans.

“[But on YouTube, the comments section] lives devoid of context: Everyone comes to just shout: ‘Go Arsenal!’ ‘Go Man U! ‘I like turtles’.”

Reddit is also planning a design overhaul of its own. While it recently launched mobile apps and a mobile web experience, the desktop site has largely looked the same for years.

Ohanian said: “Desktop changes are coming. We are always, always, always going to prioritise functionality over design. What I mean is there are millions of beautiful websites that nobody uses. A beautiful website alone is not going to bring hundreds of millions of users — the content has to be the reason for people to come. But it can look good, and it will look good, I promise.”

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