Lessons From Buzzfeed: The Science of Sharing

By Jared Keller

BIIgnition.pngNEW YORK -- Cute kitten celebrity Lady Gaga sex tape. Those words won't necessarily help your blog become the most talked about thing since penicillin -- but they may help.

The logic of "going viral" seems fairly straightforward for many media companies: create the basest, most eye-catching content with a few Google-friendly keywords, and boom -- instant Internet success. But Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed, the popular website that combines viral detection technology with editorial sensibility, believes the science of sharing isn't that simple. After nearly a decade of working everywhere from political campaigns to market research, Buzzfeed came out of a simple question: "How do ideas spread?"

Obviously, intellectual porn is usually trumped by real (or close to real) porn. But the human mind isn't a uniform filter, especially on the Web, and sharing behavior differs across Google, Twitter and Facebook.

"Nobody can see what you search on Google, so popular search trends tend to reflect the more reptilian brain in people, Peretti said. "Celebrity gossip, sex, hair transplants ... nobody tweets about this stuff."

Facebook and Twitter are more toned down. Since you know your friends and family will see what you post on Facebook, the majority of viral content is based around humor, political identity, or causes. "It's the difference between 'this is what I actually like' and 'this is something that I think will make me look like a good guy,'" Peretti said. "This goes for political and social causes too." Twitter shares the same characteristics of Facebook, but given its interactivity, tends to attract a more techie, culturally-savvy audience.

The result is something of an online schizophrenia; as opposed to having the same coherent identity as the online world of social sharing, viral sharing actually exposes the cracks and inconsistencies of our online identities.

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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/lessons-from-buzzfeed-the-science-of-sharing/67345/