The term “AMA” is a staple of Reddit, and it has spread to the far corners of the internet. But what does AMA mean, who came up with the word, and how do you use it?
Ask Me Anything
AMA is an abbreviation for “ask me anything.” It’s used by people who are opening themselves up to any kind of question—especially personal questions. And while AMA can be used anywhere on the internet, it’s usually used on the Reddit AMA forum (which is more open to strangers than a Facebook or Twitter thread).
Reddit’s AMA forum follows a very straightforward format. People start a thread with a personal detail about their life, and others ask questions that pertain to that detail. One thread might start with, “I’m an Amazon delivery driver, AMA” while another might say, “I’m a former FBI agent, AMA.” (In this way, the AMA forum is sort of like an interactive version of Oprah or Ellen’s talk shows.)
Of course, the biggest AMA threads are started by celebrities. Who wouldn’t want to ask their favorite celebrity a question? These threads are highly publicized, and they’re usually started to support new shows or movies. They also require proof of identity (photos, videos, or AMA-related posts on official Twitter and Facebook accounts), so fans don’t have to worry about being hoodwinked.
(By the way, Reddit’s AMA forum is called /r/IAmA, because the AMA format starts with “I am a…” and ends with “ask me anything.” If they had known that “AMA” would define the forum, they probably would’ve called it /r/AMA.)
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AMA Originated on Reddit, but the Idea Is Nothing New
In 2008 or 2009, the staff at Reddit realized their website could bridge the gap between celebrities and regular people. They started to host celebrity Q&As, which were very video-heavy and carried a detached “We Just Got a Letter” vibe.
This seems kind of corny now, but Reddit’s focus on Q&A videos was a huge selling point. Text-based Q&As could be fake, but videos didn’t lie (at least, they didn’t lie in 2009). Eventually, Reddit staff created the /r/IAmA forum to host Q&As. They abandoned videos for live, text-based interactions but held firm to the idea of verifying celebrities’ identities, which explains why the format was so successful.
From this angle, it’s pretty clear the AMA format is nothing new. It developed from the Q&A format of magazines and newspapers and could even be compared to talk shows, radio call-ins, Star Trek fan panels, and other forms of fan-to-celebrity communication.
That said, AMA is a very special development in this kind of communication. Yesteryear’s Q&As were mediated by journalists or radio hosts, while Reddit AMAs are totally unmediated. Plus, you can ask questions to anyone with an interesting life, not just rich celebrities and cheesing politicians.
(By the way, The Atlantic has an amazing writeup on the history of /r/IAmA. If you’re interested in the early internet, then you should definitely read this article.)
How Do I Use AMA?
The AMA forum is fairly easy to use. Anyone can read posts on Reddit without an account, so there’s no harm in browsing through AMA threads to see if there’s anything interesting. If you want to ask questions, then create a Reddit account and go for it. Your questions might go unanswered (even if they’re good questions), but that’s just part of the experience.
Want to start your own AMA thread? It’s easy, just make sure you follow the AMA format and have proof to back up any claims you make. A thread like, “there’s a nail in my skull, AMA” is interesting, but you can’t post it without an x-ray or some other form of proof. (Check the /r/IAmA FAQ for most robust instructions.)
If you want to use AMA outside of Reddit, just know it’s a direct abbreviation of “ask me anything.” You can start a Facebook or Twitter thread in the AMA format, or even use the abbreviation “AMA” in every day conversations—“Need help with your computer? Feel free to AMA!”
The term “AMA” doesn’t always refer to Reddit or even formal AMA threads, either. For example, you might jokingly say, “I just ate an entire pizza, AMA” in a chat room or on social media. Or, you might make a sarcastic comment like, “I’m going to be rich now that my few cents of Equifax settlement money came in, AMA.”
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