a chaotic collage of pixelated images with the Pitt logo magnified
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Redditors hail to Pitt on r/place

  • Technology & Science
  • Arts and Humanities
  • School of Computing and Information

If you don’t use Reddit, you’d be forgiven for not knowing about r/place, the massive online collaborative art project that recently took the social networking site by storm.

r/place is basically a blank canvas made up of tiny white pixel grids that users can add to once every five minutes. Originally launched for April Fools’ Day in 2017, the project returned for 2022 and enthralled thousands of redditors — including a team of Pitt collaborators.

Here’s how it works: Reddit users each place a single colored pixel on the canvas to make up a whole image. Because users are competing to build their corner of the grid, taking up space requires planning, cooperation and vigilance.

Over the course of its 72-hour run, fandoms and communities spattered the canvas with national flags, identity flags, team logos, portraits and symbols. Reddit estimates that more than 1 million active users participated in the build.

One of Pitt’s Place builders was Ryan Lynch (SCI ’21). He was a part of building the Pitt logo in both the 2017 and 2022 iterations of r/place.

“I was in my senior year of high school and had actually committed to Pitt just three days before that. I graduated from Pitt last spring. It just so happens that /r/place essentially bookended my time at Pitt.”

At the beginning, Pitt’s effort was decentralized, Lynch said. By day two, the builders realized they needed a better way to communicate in real-time and set up a chatroom on the messaging platform Discord. That Discord attracted about 180 members.

“I was spending basically every waking moment in front of my computer,” he said. “Hoping we’d survive the night.”

Pitt logo created with pixel art

While many schools were able to briefly build simplistic logos, Pitt emerged early on the canvas. It eventually boasted not just the Pitt script logo, but a pixelated Cathedral of Learning, the letters H2P and numbers 13-9 (a nod to Pitt’s football rivalry with West Virginia University). Pittsburgh neighbors also joined in: underneath the Pitt script were the logos for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Penguins.

But while the Pittsburghers slept, the British would encroach, building out their national flag and overtaking Pitt territory. The r/Pitt crew allied themselves with fans of British football team Arsenal FC, but they ultimately lost their turf to the Union Jack and Doctor Who early Saturday morning.

Arsenal was only one of r/Pitt’s alliances, which points to a positive aspect of the r/place project: teamwork. The ACC conference schools set aside their differences and set up a chatroom to help defend one another’s space and to get as many logos on the map as possible. When the asexual community lost their heart logo, Pitt redditors teamed up with them to rebuilt it.

To those who participated in r/place, it represented a microcosm of the best and worst of online communities, and maybe humanity itself.

“I love Place because, at its core, it’s a very simple concept and yields such a complex social experiment that demonstrates what online communities are all about.”


— Acacia O’Connor