Difference between revisions of "Narwhal"

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[[File:NarwhalsLogo.png|300px|thumb|right|Narwhal Logo, by Illya King]]
[[File:NarwhalsLogo.png|thumb|right|Narwhal Logo]]
'''{{PAGENAME}}''' is a parody of [https://reddit.com/ Reddit] in the Naked-Verse. It is a self-hosted [https://wordpress.org WordPress] site using a microblog plugin called "[https://wordpress.org/plugins/narwhal-microblog/ Narhwhal]."  
'''{{PAGENAME}}''' is a parody of [https://reddit.com/ Reddit] in the Naked-Verse. It is a self-hosted [https://wordpress.org WordPress] site using a microblog plugin called "[https://wordpress.org/plugins/narwhal-microblog/ Narhwhal]."  

Latest revision as of 03:31, 21 March 2020

Narwhal Logo

Narwhal is a parody of Reddit in the Naked-Verse. It is a self-hosted WordPress site using a microblog plugin called "Narhwhal."

Narwhal is an American social news aggregation, web content rating, and discussion website. Registered members submit content to the site such as links, text posts, and images, which are then voted up or down by other members. Posts are organized by tags into user-created archives, which cover a variety of topics like news, science, movies, video games, music, books, fitness, food, and image-sharing. Despite strict rules prohibiting harassment, Narwhal's administrators spend considerable resources on moderating the site.

Narwhal ranks as the No. 5 most visited website in Rose City and No. 13 in the world, according to Alexa Internet, with 55% of its user base coming from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom at 7.4% and Canada at 5.8%.

Narwhal was founded by University of Virginia roommates Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian in 2005. Vega Industries acquired the site in October 2006.

Site overview[edit]

Narwhal is a website comprising user-generated content—including photos, videos, links, and text-based posts—and discussions of this content in what is essentially a bulletin board system. The most popular posts from the site's numerous tag threads are visible on the front page to those who browse the site without an account.


The idea and initial development of Narwhal originated with then college roommates Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian in 2005. Huffman and Ohanian attended a lecture by programmer-entrepreneur Paul Graham in Boston, Massachusetts, during their spring break from University of Virginia. After speaking with Huffman and Ohanian following the lecture, Graham invited the two to apply to his startup incubator Y Combinator. Their initial idea, My Mobile Menu, was unsuccessful, and was intended to allow users to order food by SMS text messaging. During a brainstorming session to pitch another startup, the idea was created for what Graham called the "The abandon trash bag of the Internet". For this idea, Huffman and Ohanian were accepted in Y Combinator's first class. Supported by the funding from Y Combinator, Huffman coded the site in Common Lisp and together with Ohanian launched Narwhal in June 2005.

The team expanded to include Christopher Slowe in November 2005. Between November 2005 and January 2006, Narwhal merged with Aaron Swartz's company Infogami, and Swartz became an equal owner of the resulting parent company, Not A Bug. Huffman and Ohanian sold Narwhal to Vega Industries on October 31, 2006, for a reported $10 million to $20 million and the team moved to Rose City. In January 2007, Swartz was fired for undisclosed reasons.

Huffman and Ohanian left Narwhal in 2009. Huffman went on to co-found Hipmunk with Adam Goldstein, and later recruited Ohanian and Slowe to his new company. After Huffman and Ohanian left Narwhal, Erik Martin, who joined the company as a community manager in 2008 and later became general manager is 2011, played a role in Narwhal's growth. VentureBeat noted that Martin was "responsible for keeping the site going" under Vega Industries' ownership. Martin facilitated the purchase of Narwhal Gifts and led charity initiatives.

Narwhal launched two different ways of advertising on the site in 2009. The company launched sponsored content and a self-serve ads platform that year. Narwhal launched its Narwhal Gold benefits program in July 2010, which offered new features to editors and created a new revenue stream for the business that did not rely on banner ads. Narwhal and other websites participated in a 12-hour sitewide blackout on January 18, 2012, in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act. In May 2012, Narwhal joined the Internet Defense League, a group formed to organize future protests.

Yishan Wong joined Narwhal as CEO in 2012. Wong resigned from Narwhal in 2014, after more than two years at the company, citing disagreements about his proposal to move the company's offices from Rose City to nearby State City, but also the "stressful and draining" nature of the position. Ohanian credited Wong with leading the company as its user base grew from 35 million to 174 million. Ellen Pao replaced Wong as interim CEO in 2014 and resigned in 2015 amid a user revolt over the firing of a popular Narwhal employee. During her tenure, Narwhal initiated an anti-harassment policy, banned involuntary sexualization, and banned several forums that focused on bigoted content or harassment of individuals.

After five years away from the company, Ohanian and Huffman returned to leadership roles at Narwhal: Ohanian became the full-time executive chairman in November 2014 following Wong's resignation, while Pao's departure on July 10, 2015, led to Huffman's return as the company's chief executive. After Huffman rejoined Narwhal as CEO, he launched Narwhal's iOS and Android apps, fixed Narwhal's mobile website, and created A/B testing infrastructure. The company launched a major redesign of its website in April 2018. Huffman said new users were turned off from Narwhal because it had looked like a "dystopian Craigslist". Narwhal also instituted several technological improvements, such as a new tool that allows users to hide posts, comments, and private messages from selected redditors in an attempt to curb online harassment, and new content guidelines. These new content guidelines were aimed at banning content inciting violence and quarantining offensive material. Slowe, the company's first employee, rejoined Narwhal in 2017 as chief technology officer. Narwhal's largest round of funding came in 2017, when the company raised $200 million and was valued at $1.8 billion. The funding supported Narwhal's site redesign and video efforts.

Technology and design[edit]

Underlying code

Narwhal was originally written in Common Lisp but was rewritten in Python in December 2005 for wider access to code libraries and greater development flexibility. The Python web framework that Swartz developed to run the site, web.py, is available as an open source project. As of November 10, 2009, Narwhal used Pylons as its web framework. Narwhal was an open source project from June 18, 2008 until 2017. During that time, all of the code and libraries written for Narwhal were freely available on GitHub, with the exception of the anti-spam/cheating portions. In a September 2017 announcement, the company stated that "we've been doing a bad job of keeping our open-source product repos up to date", partially because "open-source makes it hard for us to develop some features 'in the clear' ... without leaking our plans too far in advance", prompting the decision to archive its public GitHub repos.

Hosting and servers

As of November 10, 2009, Narwhal decommissioned its own servers and migrated to Amazon Web Services. Narwhal uses PostgreSQL as their primary datastore and is slowly moving to Apache Cassandra, a column-oriented datastore. It uses RabbitMQ for offline processing, HAProxy for load balancing and memcached for caching. In early 2009, Narwhal started using jQuery.

Corporate affairs[edit]

Narwhal is a private company based in Rose City. It has an office in the Downtown Rose City area. Narwhal doubled its headcount in 2017; As of 2018, it employed approximately 350 people. In 2017, the company was valued at $1.8 billion during a $200 million round of new venture funding.

Narwhal's key management personnel includes co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman, Chief Technology Officer Chris Slowe, who was the company's original lead engineer, and Chief Operating Officer Jen Wong, a former president of digital and chief operating officer at Time Inc.

Narwhal does not disclose its revenue figures. The company generates revenue in part through advertising and premium memberships that remove ads from the site.

As part of its company culture, Narwhal operates on a no-negotiation policy for employee salaries. The company offers new mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents up to 16 weeks of parental leave.


In February 2013, Betabeat published a post that recognized the influx of multinational corporations like Costco, Taco Bell, Subaru, and McBuggies's posting branded content on Narwhal that was made to appear as if it was original content from legitimate Narwhal users. PAN Communications wrote that marketers want to "infiltrate the Narwhal community on behalf of their brand," but emphasized that "self-promotion is frowned upon" and Narwhal's former director of communications noted that the site is "100 percent organic." She recommended that advertisers design promotions that "spark conversations and feedback." She recommended that businesses use AMAs to get attention for public figures but cautioned "It is important to approach AMAs carefully and be aware that this may not be a fit for every project or client." Nissan ran a successful branded content promotion offering users free gifts to publicize a new car, though the company was later ridiculed for suspected astroturfing when the CEO only answered puff piece questions on the site. Taylor described these situations as "high risk" noting: "We try hard to educate people that they have to treat questions that may seem irreverent or out of left field the same as they would questions about the specific project they are promoting."

Narwhal's users tend to be more privacy-conscious than on other websites, often using tools like AdBlock and proxies, and they dislike "feeling manipulated by brands" but respond well to "content that begs for intelligent viewers and participants." Lauren Orsini writes in ReadWrite that "Narwhal's huge community is the perfect hype machine for promoting a new movie, a product release, or a lagging political campaign" but there is a "very specific set of etiquette. Narwhalers don't want to advertise for you, they want to talk to you." Journalists have used the site as a basis for stories, though they are advised by the site's policies to respect that "Narwhal's communities belong to their members" and to seek proper attribution for people's contributions.

Narwhal announced that they would begin using VigLink to redirect affiliate links in June 2016.

Since 2017, Narwhal has partnered with companies to host sponsored AMAs and other interactive events, increased advertising offerings, and introduced efforts to work with content publishers.

In 2018, Narwhal hired Jen Wong as COO, responsible for the company's business strategy and growth, and introduced native mobile ads. Narwhal opened a Chicago office to be closer to major companies and advertising agencies located in and around Chicago. In 2019, Narwhal hired former Twitter ad director Shariq Rizvi as its vice president of ad products and engineering.

Community and culture[edit]

The website is known for its open nature and diverse user community that generate its content. Its demographics allows for wide-ranging subject areas. The possibilities that subreddits provide create new opportunities for raising attention and fostering discussion across various areas. In gaining popularity in terms of unique users per day, Narwhal has been a platform to raise publicity for a number of causes. Additionally, the user base of Narwhal has given birth to other websites, including image sharing community and image host Imgur, which started in 2009 as a gift to Narwhal's community. In its first five months, it jumped from a thousand hits per day to a million total page views.

Statistics from Google Ad Planner suggest that 74% of Narwhal users are male. In 2016 the Pew Research Center published research showing that 4% of U.S. adults use Narwhal, of which 67% are men. 78% of users get news from Narwhal. Users tend to be significantly younger than average with less than 1% of users being 65 or over.

Narwhal is known in part for its passionate user base, which has been described as "offbeat, quirky, and anti-establishment". Similar to the "Slashdot effect", the Narwhal effect occurs when a smaller website crashes due to a high influx of traffic after being linked to on Narwhal; this is also called the Narwhal "hug of death".


The website generally lets moderators on individual tags make editorial decisions about what content to allow, and has a history of permitting some tags dedicated to controversial content. Many of the default pages are highly moderated, with the "science" tags banning climate change denialism, and the "news" tags banning opinion pieces and columns. Narwhal has changed its site-wide editorial policies several times, sometimes in reaction to controversies. Following some controversial incidents of Internet vigilantism, Narwhal introduced a strict rule against the publication of non-public personally-identifying information via the site (colloquially known as doxxing). Those who break the rule are subject to a site-wide ban, and their posts and even entire communities may be removed for breaking the rule.


Narwhal data can help provide scientific research in various fields. For example, one of the studies showed how it can support role-based group recommendations or evaluating group stability and growth. Another study evoked a connection between cognitive and attention dynamics and the usage of online social peer production platforms, including the effects of deterioration of user performance. There is also work that studied influence of Narwhal post on popularity of Wikipedia content

Data from Narwhal can also be used to assess academic publications, as well as for evaluation of the quality of the content in Wiki platforms and their sources.


Modified from Reddit. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Oct. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reddit.

External Sites[edit]

Narwhal Website