”People are…keenly aware that BuzzFeed garnered 25 million views (and climbing) for its article about the dress. Twenty-five million is a very, very serious number of visitors in a day — the sort of traffic that just about any global media property would kill for (while social media is like, ho hum).
worry a little about the lesson that people will draw from that
traffic. I mean draw your own conclusions. I’m just saying. I worry.
don’t worry about today, of course. Today everyone will come into their
posting stations, write a blog post or 36 about the dress from their
particular angle (celebrity, science, fashion, racism), and talk about
the real meaning of our shared day of fun and frolic online. The endless
cycle of insufferability will continue its ceaseless exchange, whereby
insufferable things evaporate and turn into clouds of takes that rain
down upon us to fill our insufferability reservoirs.”
"The reason BuzzFeed exists—the actual, real reason—was to capture Internet ridiculousness and folly in
its fullness. Since being founded in 2006 to wide ridicule it has become
a platform company, with a very large technical team, a huge editorial
team, a video team, a built-in ad agency, lots of middle management,
tons of journalists, and big piles of money from California.
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 those 25 million
impressions, as far as I can tell from years of listening to their
people, reading their website, 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.
is not said as an endorsement of BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed is utterly
deserving of insanely paranoid criticism just like anything who makes
money from your attention (this category includes me, Paul Ford). But
it’s worth pointing out again 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 (1) a hint of magic, and (2) some science.
If the conclusion that you draw, as a media professional, is “we should
be getting in on things like that dress, we should be more like
BuzzFeed,” you are probably going to damage
your organization while not actually getting that sweet sweet traffic
that you so desire. Because it’s not about traffic as much as culture.
What should you actually do? I mean, you could hire or re-assign a mix of younger and older talented people from very
diverse backgrounds, give them measurable goals and time to think, see
what works, track progress, iterate, and then
participate in the larger community of people who are trying to work
out these problems of culture, technology, and prose. That would be
expensive and would require not really having a plan but rather making
it up as you go, which is the hardest thing for anyone to justify to
their boss. Or you could wait and try to jam whatever is working
elsewhere right now into your current creaking system.
can’t get the dress traffic from angry competition any more than you
can get “Snow Fall” by pasting a bunch of stories and pictures together.
You can’t buy software for it or squeeze it out of people. You have to
build it over time with lots of nerds of all sort and make people not
hate their lives along the way. Then you need to see which parts work,
and do them over and over again. It takes years.
I apologize for writing a thinkpiece.”