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Reddit communities aren’t quite like any other groups on social media platforms. Each labyrinthine discussion on a subreddit follows the principle of ‘decentralised moderation’. This means there is no single authority that represents all participants in the platform’s subreddits. Different subreddits have different rules and every moderator is the ruler of their kingdom.
The people spoken about on these forums are meant to stay away from them. For the people involved to take over a subreddit and kick out the original moderators is equivalent to a plane hijacking for the community. Imagine the surprise when the company behind the free and open-source text-to-image tool Stable Diffusion did this.
A couple of days ago, the now-famous Emad Mostaque-led company Stability AI “infiltrated” the r/StableDiffusion community, banned some of the users, kicked out the moderators and took over the subreddit. They also unlinked the link to the stable-diffusion-webui GitHub repository. This is the short of it. But there’s a lot going on behind the stir.
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All about the Reddit drama
Let’s look at all the characters involved in the drama. Ever since Stable Diffusion was released to the public, a bunch of its variations or forks have cropped up quickly, all of which are usually hosted on GitHub. There is one from among these forks that was arguably more popular than the others, by a user called automatic111, who was also in touch with the Stable Diffusion team.
On the other hand, there’s a Reddit user who created the r/stablediffusion subreddit and was not involved with the Stable Diffusion team. The user, who was also a minor, went on to also create the Stable Diffusion Discord channel.
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Meanwhile, NovelAI, a GPT-powered AI writing text generator was tied up with Stability AI and were able to get early access to their tool to integrate it with their own monthly subscription service.
About a week ago, a user on the 4chan community was able to extract the unique Stable Diffusion model that NovelAI had developed for their closed service using an exploit on GitHub. The NovelAI version was passed all around the internet and everyone was able to create the images reserved for their paid users. NovelAI eventually found that a code that their model had was also found on automatic1111s fork of Stable Diffusion. NovelAI’s team accused the user of theft of their proprietary code.
Automaticc1111’s code was open-source and released prior to NovelAI’s. But the damage was already done. Stable Diffusion distanced themselves from automatic1111 and took over both platforms to remove them from the subreddit and the Discord channel.
Stable Diffusion reportedly promised the creator of the subreddit future opportunities within their team and stated that all the original moderators of the subreddit would be retained. Stability AI went back on their word and kicked out all moderators other than the creator and one other person.
The lack of communication with the Reddit community did little to help their case and the unfounded allegations against automatic1111 made matters worse since he was seen as a representative within the community. To undo the damage, David Ha, a former scientist with Google Brain who joined Stability AI as head of strategy a couple of days back posted on the subreddit saying the company would give up control over the subreddit and reinstate mod privileges. Ha admitted that the company was still “young and needed to learn how to engage on social media”.
A billion dollar company now
For a company that became prominent due to its decidedly ‘community’ interests because it simply made its tool open-source, Stability AI’s moves look suspiciously similar to the corporates they were up against. The irony is that OpenAI is often seen as a company that guards their research fiercely. DALL.E 2, the first text-to-image generator was released at first only to a very small community, which mostly comprised employees and a few AI artists. A user pointed out saying this was something even OpenAI hadn’t done with its DALL.E 2 subreddit community.
Stability AI’s sudden turn towards a more authoritarian and closed business model isn’t an accident. An exclusive report by Business Insider stated that the UK-based startup closed a financing round for USD 100 million backed by investment group Coatue Management and Lightspeed Venture Partners. According to sources, the company is now valued at USD 1 billion. Mostaque, a former hedge fund manager, had initially provided a majority chunk of the capital himself.
While Stability AI’s business strategy still remains fuzzy, in a recent interview, Mostaque said that he is already in talks with “governments and large organisations” to offer Stable Diffusion’s tech. “We’ve negotiated a large number of deals, so we’ll be profitable at the door, compared to large corporations that lose most of their money,” he added.
Mostaque has always insisted that Stability AI was meant to encourage open-source research. In an interview with TechCrunch in August, he said the company was fully independent with nobody else having voting rights other than his employees. Since its valuation, Mostaque will be giving away up to 10% of the company to the investors. Venture capitalists like Lightspeed and Coatue normally take up board seats in their companies. There are no details yet on how the arrangement with Stability AI is.