kottke.org posts about Buzzfeed
Today is my last day working out of the Buzzfeed office. The company is soon moving to new NYC digs, which seems like a good time for me to hop off. I was the company's design advisor back when it started and have been working out of their offices since there were five of us holed up in a former Communist Party HQ we shared with several enthusiastic roach coworkers in Chinatown. It's been a treat watching this ship rocket into the stratosphere from the inside.1 They've got offices all over the world now and are probably close to 1000 employees, perhaps more, most of whom had no idea why the guy sitting w/ the tech team surfed around on the web all day and never attended any meetings.
Anyway, so many thanks to Jonah and the rest of the crew there. And good luck!
The internet went crazy yesterday three separate times: when the FCC officially endorsed Net Neutrality, when two llamas escaped, and over the color of this dress.1 A solid three meme day. That scuffling sound you hear is the media scrambling to deliver all sorts of different takes on What It All Means™. The only one I really read, and the only one I'm going to link to, is Paul Ford on why Buzzfeed got 27 million pageviews for #TheDress2 and some other site didn't.
What I saw, as I looked through the voluminous BuzzFeed coverage of the dress, is an organization at the peak of a craft they've been honing since 2006. They are masters of the form they pioneered. If you think that's bullshit, that's fine -- I think most things are bullshit too. But they didn't just serendipitously figure out that blue dress. They created an organization that could identify that blue dress, document it, and capture the traffic. And the way they got that 25 million impressions, as far as I can tell from years of listening to their people, reading them, writing about them, and not working or writing for them, was something like: Build a happy-enough workplace where people could screw around and experiment with what works and doesn't, and pay everyone some money.
This is not said as an endorsement of BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed is utterly deserving of insanely paranoid criticism just like anyone who makes money from your attention, including me. But it's worth pointing out that their recipe for traffic seems to be: Hire tons of people; let them experiment, figure out how social media works, and repeat endlessly; with lots of snacks. Robots didn't make this happen. It was a hint of magic, and some science.
I'm reminded of a story about Picasso, possibly apocryphal:
Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.
"It's you -- Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist."
So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.
"It's perfect!" she gushed. "You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?"
"Five thousand dollars," the artist replied.
"B-b-but, what?" the woman sputtered. "How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!"
To which Picasso responded, "Madame, it took me my entire life."
Similarly, designer Paula Scher took only a few seconds to come up with the new logo for Citibank for which Pentagram likely charged big money for:
How can it be that you talk to someone and it's done in a second? But it is done in a second. it's done in a second and in 34 years, and every experience and every movie and every thing of my life that's in my head.
Ford is exactly right about BuzzFeed; they put in the work for years so that a post that took probably 3 minutes to write captured more traffic in one day than some media outlets get in an entire month. (thx, @DigDoug & @jayfallon)
Update: A post from BuzzFeed's publisher, Dao Nguyen, explains how the company's tech team reacted to the unexpected traffic.
We have a bunch of things going for us at this point. We have heavily invested in infrastructure provisioning and scaling. We know exactly how to scale fast from running drills.
Felix Salmon, who used to blog for Reuters but now works for a new cable TV network, interviews Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed, a site best known for its lists and snackable meme content, for a site called Matter which is in turn published by Medium. Medium tells us the interview will take 91 minutes to read. Also, I am writing this from the Buzzfeed office and Jonah is a friend of mine.
Jonah is not your typical media mogul, however. He's smarter than most, and more accessible, and also much happier than many to share his thoughts. Which is why I asked Jonah if he'd be interested in talking to me over an extended period. To my delight, he said yes, and we ended up having four interviews spanning more than six hours.
The resulting Q&A is long, for which I make no apologies. You'll learn a lot about Jonah Peretti and how he thinks - but you'll also learn a great deal about the modern media world, the way the Internet has evolved, and the way that Jonah has evolved with it.
If you want to learn the secret of how Jonah managed to build two of the world's most important online media properties, you'll find that here, too. Which brings me to another way in which Jonah differs from most other moguls. If you succeed in building something similarly successful as a result, he will be cheering you all the way.
I am looking forward to someone publishing the highlights of this. (via @choire)
Update: Here's an attempt at some crib notes. (via @tgeorgakopoulos)
I loved reading CEO Jonah Peretti's most recent memo to the team at Buzzfeed.
But there are many exciting, tempting, glamorous, lucrative opportunities that we will NOT do in the coming year and as more of these opportunities present themselves it will take discipline to stay on track. We will NOT launch a BuzzFeed TV show, radio station, cable network, or movie franchise -- we'll leave that to the legacy media and Hollywood studios. We will NOT launch a white labeled version of BuzzFeed to power other sites or a BuzzFeed social network -- we'll leave that to pure tech companies in Silicon Valley. We will NOT launch a print edition or a paywall or a paid conference business -- we'll leave that to other publications. We have a great business model that has a bright future as social and mobile continue to become the dominate form of media consumption. We will stay away from anything that requires adopting a legacy business model, even a lucrative one like cable syndication fees or prime time television ads. What seems like a lucrative opportunity today is often a distraction from building something much more exciting tomorrow. We need to stay patient and focused.
Here's his 2012 memo. I've worked at a desk in the Buzzfeed office for as long as they've had an office (Fay Da posse represent!), and it's been fascinating watching Jonah and his team turn a big idea and small blog into a media juggernaut.
Chris Dixon has posted, with permission, a letter that Jonah Peretti recently wrote to the employees of and investors in Buzzfeed outlining the company's strategy. If you're at all curious about the future of media on the web, it is an interesting read.
Most publishers build their site by stapling together products made by other companies. They get their CMS from one company, their analytics package from another, their ad tech from another, their related content widgets are powered by another, sometimes even their writers are contractors who don't work for the company. This is why so many publisher sites look the same and also why they can be so amazingly complex and hard to navigate. They are Frankenstein products bolted together by a tech team that integrates other people's products instead of building their own.
At BuzzFeed we take the exact opposite approach. We manage our own servers, we built our CMS from scratch, we created our own realtime stats system, we have our own data science team, we invented own ad products and our own post formats, and all these products are brought to life by our own editorial team and our own creative services team. We are what you call a "vertically integrated product" which is rare in web publishing. We take responsibility for the technology, the advertising, and the content and that allows us to make a much better product where everything works together.
It is hard to build vertically integrated products because you have to get good at several things instead of just one. This is why for years Microsoft was seen as the smart company for focusing on just one layer and Apple was seen as dumb for trying to do everything. But now Apple is more than twice (!) as valuable as Microsoft and the industry is starting to accept that you need to control every layer to make a really excellent product. Even Microsoft and Google has started to make their own hardware after years of insisting that software is what matters.
BuzzFeed is one of the very few publishers with the resources, talent, and focus to build the whole enchilada. And nothing is tastier than a homemade enchilada.
Jonah also recently offered some unsolicited advice to Marissa Meyer about how to think about media at Yahoo.
It is amazing how having a huge homepage can be a curse. People start fighting over existing traffic instead of trying to make awesome new things that are exciting enough to attract their own audience. Marissa Mayer should exclude homepage traffic from all metrics used to evaluate performance - that would be the single biggest thing she could do to turn around the company.
Taking that a step further, good performance should result in homepage placement, not the other way around.
A note of disclosure: I was/sorta still am an advisor to Buzzfeed (and work from the BF office), although nothing I ever offered in the way of advice has contributed significantly to Buzzfeed's current success. I also enjoy enchiladas.
Susan Cain argues that the lack of privacy and freedom from interruption in modern offices might not be the best way for those office employees to be creative...particularly for introverts.
The New Groupthink has overtaken our workplaces, our schools and our religious institutions. Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I'm talking about. Virtually all American workers now spend time on teams and some 70 percent inhabit open plan offices, in which no one has "a room of one's own." During the last decades, the average amount of space allotted to each employee shrank 300 square feet, from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet in 2010.
The new offices of Foursquare and Buzzfeed (where I work from) are a perfect example of the New Groupthink Cain refers to....rows and rows of people sitting next to each other in open spaces. Much of this is because of NYC's insane rental market, but Fog Creek's offices are a nice counterexample:
Every developer, tester, and program manager is in a private office; all except two have direct windows to the outside (the two that don't get plenty of daylight through two glass walls).
That maps post snuck out this morning before I could properly thank Aaron Cohen for for his exemplary handling of kottke.org for the past week++. From what I hear, many of you enjoyed his time here and I'm hoping he'll join us again soon. I'm looking forward to catching up on what he posted.
While I'm thinking about it, I'd like to acknowledge my pals at Buzzfeed for their continued behind-the-scenes support of kottke.org. I've been working out of their Chinatown office for several years; having a desk outside the house makes all the difference for this sole proprietor. They just moved into new offices in Soho (within walking distance of my house!); I haven't been there yet and am looking forward to checking them out today.
Ok, enough Oscar speech crap. Back to work.
Buzzfeed is looking for a web designer:
BuzzFeed is a venture-funded startup building an innovative platform for publishing and tracking viral media. We are seeking a talented New York-based designer to join us full-time in our brand new 4000 sq ft SOHO office space. This is an great opportunity to make a huge impact as an integral part of our small team.
I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed...if you get hired, tell them I sent you and I get to eat the office's employee-only granola bars again.
Buzzfeed unveiled a little something new this week: contributions. The site has always had a feedback mechanism where people could suggest links to add to trends, but now anyone can sign up for an account and contribute links, text, videos, and images to Buzzfeed posts. The vast majority of comments on blogs are text-only but Buzzfeed makes it easy to post video, link, and images responses as well. Call it the Tumblrization of blog comments. Innovation in blog comments has been hard to come by for the past few years...this is a nice step. (Disclosure: I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed.)
Fire Eagle, Yahoo's personal location service, has been in beta for awhile but is now live for anyone to use. The service allows you to update your location through the site, your phone, or through 3rd party apps and services. You can broadcast that location to your friends or keep it to yourself for use with other Fire Eagle-enabled apps (e.g. show me coffee shops near where I am right now). Think of the site as an online wallet where you keep your location for use all around the web. The .net TLD is a nice touch, emphasizing the hub-like character of the site/service.
[And why paste these two sites together? Ze Frank. He's been helping Buzzfeed with their contributions launch and Fire Eagle took its name from Frank's The Show (Fire Eagle Danger Day).]
BuzzFeed is looking to hire a Perl developer to join a small development team.
We are in need of a experienced software developer well versed in Perl and web based technologies. Looking for a motivated individual who has experience building scalable web application in Perl and MySQL, and has a familiarity with developing in Unix/Linux environments.
A new version of Buzzfeed launched late last night. It's not exactly a 2.0 release, but it's a major step toward that near-future event. Disclosure: I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed.
Buzzfeed gets a little love in this week's New Yorker article about the "death and life of the American newspaper".
The Huffington Post's editorial processes are based on what Peretti has named the "mullet strategy." ("Business up front, party in the back" is how his trend-spotting site BuzzFeed glosses it.) "User-generated content is all the rage, but most of it totally sucks," Peretti says. The mullet strategy invites users to "argue and vent on the secondary pages, but professional editors keep the front page looking sharp. The mullet strategy is here to stay, because the best way for Web companies to increase traffic is to let users have control, but the best way to sell advertising is a slick, pretty front page where corporate sponsors can admire their brands."
Here's the mullet strategy page on Buzzfeed. (Disclosure: I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed.)
Buzzfeed has started collecting their trends onto tag pages; my favorite tag so far is No One Cares...it's a collection of the trends that people weren't interested in reading, like Pancake Day, Chinese People Using the Internet, and Carl Sagan Blog-A-Thon. Come on! What's wrong with thozzzzzzz...
Several of the web's most popular sites (Digg, YouTube, MySpace, CNN) are using the mullet strategy (business up front, party in the rear) for content to attract both boisterous users and well-heeled advertisers. "They let users party, argue, and vent on the secondary pages" -- that's the party in the rear -- "but professional editors keep the front page looking sharp" -- the business up front.
On March 14, 1998, I made the first post to this little site. And I'm still standin' (yeah yeah yeah). Here's to 9 more years. Actually, I'll settle for making it to 10. Baby steps.
In addition to my regular duties on kottke.org, I'm editing Buzzfeed today. Stories so far: Bracket Madness, Sweet Sweet Passover Coke, and 2007 Movie Season. More to come this afternoon.
And if that weren't enough excitement for one day, it's also Pi Day. (Whoa, the Pi Day web site uses Silkscreen!) I bet the Pi Dayers are really looking forward to 2015 when they can extend the fun to two additional decimal places.
Here's one for your SXSW calendar: Buzzfeed and Ze Frank are hosting a party on Saturday, March 10 at 10pm with music by Juiceboxxx. Disclosure: I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed and as such, I advise you to check out this party.
Update: If you're planning on attending, make your mark at Upcoming.
Buzzfeed: the new Digg? Note: I'm a Buzzfeed advisor.
Jonah Peretti, late of Eyebeam and currently of Huffington Post, and his fine team have launched Buzzfeed. From the about page:
BuzzFeed distinguishes what is actually interesting from what is merely hyped. We only feature movies, music, fashion, ideas, technology, and culture that are on the rise and worth your time.
The content territory that Buzzfeed aims to fill is an interesting one. The site is not Digg with 125 new items to read on the front page every day. Neither is it an historical record of what people thought was interesting at a certain point in time. It's more like a water cooler conversation with velocity, a moving snapshot of what the media and blogosphere is talking about. As a result, the stuff you see on Buzzfeed is not the absolute newest, freshest thing...there's no truly breaking news on the site because to have buzz around something, people already need to be talking about it somewhere. But unless you're completely obsessive about keeping up with everything going on in all corners of the world, it's likely that Buzzfeed will show you something new and interesting every day, especially if it's in an area you don't normally pay attention to. That's the goal, anyway.
I think it's a great approach, an attempt to cut through a bit of the hype and look past the memes you might chuckle at and then completely forget about and instead, as the about page says, "aggregate authentic excitement that captures what real people are saying about the things they find most interesting". The Borat trend is an example of something that really works with this approach. Unlike most films released these days, there's a surprising number of different things around Borat to talk about. There's the movie itself. There's the surprise popularity of it. And the almost universal great reviews. Then came the lawsuits. Now there's a bit of a backlash. And there's the Snakes on a Plane angle...Borat is a movie that succeeded through viral marketing where SoaP largely failed. A bit of something for everyone there, even for the hardcare Borat fan.
Warning Disclosure: I am an advisor to Buzzfeed.
I'm the Design Advisor for a new small company in NYC, and we're looking for a full-time web designer. I can't tell you a whole lot about the company here, but I can say it involves the web, contagious media, & weblogs and the people responsible are creative, reasonable, smart, level-headed and not at all "dot com".
I will provide ad hoc feedback and you'll be working closely with Jonah Peretti and a small team of smart folks onsite in NYC (most likely in Soho or Chinatown). This is a full-time salaried position, benefits are included, and you'll get equity in the company. The position is open immediately so if you're interested, send your resume/portfolio to firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject line of "Web Designer position" (plain text resumes and links to online resumes/portfolios are greatly preferred to email attachments). We look forward to hearing from you.