Technology

Reddit rival Voat buckles under demand

Voat Image copyright Voat
Image caption Voat has risen in prominence, following a backlash against Reddit's leadership

Voat - a Swiss rival to the news site Reddit - is struggling to cope with its new-found popularity.

The platform has experienced a surge in visitors, after its US-based competitor dismissed a popular staff member.

Voat's homepage displayed an error message for much of Wednesday, and its owners have tweeted: "Everything that could possibly go wrong - went wrong, but we should be back today."

One expert said that Voat was risking missing out on a rare opportunity.

Reddit is one of the internet's most popular services - last month it received more than 163 million visitors, according to the site's own figures.

The platform allows users to post links to news stories and other online material, and then comment on them.

However, many of the volunteers that moderate its chat sections - called sub-reddits - staged a virtual lockdown last week, blocking access to their pages, after it emerged that Victoria Taylor had been dismissed by the company.

Ms Taylor had been responsible for the Ask Me Anything (AMA) section of the site, where she had helped arrange interviews with famous people.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ellen Pao became chief executive of Reddit in 2014

Reddit's chief executive, Ellen Pao, later posted an apology, acknowledging that "we haven't communicated well" both about this matter and previous changes to the site.

However, a petition calling for her to step down has now attracted more than 210,000 online signatures.

The affair has led to a surge of interest in and publicity for Voat, an alternative news-focused service founded last year by two University of Zurich students.

They promise not to censor or ban groups on their site, addressing one of the main criticisms of Ms Pao's leadership.

That policy has, however, caused them problems. In June, they said they had had to switch hosting provider after Host Europe objected to "politically incorrect" content posted to Voat.

Image copyright Voat
Image caption Voat promises its news commenting service will be less regulated than Reddit's

The site subsequently crashed when it experienced last week's jump in traffic, and its founders appealed for donations to help them cope with demand.

However, it appears that they are continuing to struggle.

Users were shown an error message for several hours on Wednesday, saying that the site was under "extremely heavy load".

"Voat will be intermittent at best over the next few days," its owners added.

"We are thrilled that so many want to join us in our cause to build an open global community."

It has since become accessible again.

One media industry expert suggested the start-up only had a limited amount of time to make the most of the backlash against Reddit.

"The issue for a lot of small businesses is that when opportunity knocks, they can't always scale up fast enough to meet demand," said Ian Maude, from Enders Analysis.

"People may hang on for a while and keep trying to go to the site. But if it can't meet demand, there's every chance they will go elsewhere."

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