Where is the meat Buzzfeed?

Buzzfeed relying too hard on software sourcing its content suffered as a result. When is a data driven approach too much?

The digital world is an amazing amazon full of opportunities, but sometimes these opportunities carry a poison pill with them. Here is a story.

Buzzfeed is very much unlike the traditional media companies that have dominated the landscape in the twentieth century. First of all – it does not need to rely on a physical medium for distribution, neither is depended on a distribution schedule. Buzzfeed’s founders didn’t need to contract with third parties to print and distribute a paper, neither with studio owners and distribution channels to have a show on air. So far, the business model doesn’t sound too different form the ones of other media companies born and bred online.  What if I also told you that Buzzfeed didn’t rely on its editorial team to source its viral listicles?

Buzzfeed’s team designed an algorithm that allowed them to source the content on the internet that is on the curb of becoming viral. It went a bit like this: ‘check that Tumblr post – it’s getting traction, check it out!’. The team at Buzzfeed would promptly check out the piece of content and, if suitable for the demographic of the website, repackage in one of the formats iconic to Buzzfeed’s content, and suggest it to its readers. The internet crawling algorithm did the company wonders, helping it reaching a larger and larger audience that the company has been able to monetize in several ways. From more traditional forms of digital advertising where companies would pay to have display banners on Buzzfeed’s website, to more sophisticated forms of native ads – through sponsored and native content. As long as Buzzfeed promised the eyeballs, advertisers trying to reach the unreachable millennials would show up at their door.

Insisting so much on data and on repackaging content sourced on the internet, Buzzfeed started receiving bad press from other media companies, accusing it of plagiarism (note though that online media is still a but the wild west, hence an accusation of plagiarism doesn’t got that far). I believe this was a bit of a wake up call for the management of the company: Buzzfeed is a new media company, not a news aggregator. We’ve seen initiatives in the past couple of years where the company has moved to creating and building a team of journalists writing articles that have more serious content than gifs of dancing cats.

Buzzfeed is doing a terrific job at keeping their content platform relevant and current. As content is becoming more and more a commodity and curation is becoming the real differentiator for news outlets, Buzzfeed’s management is managing to handling being present where the eyeballs are: they have a very strong technology (thanks to the acquisition of Kingfish Labs) that allows them to optimize their Facebook ads, but also, they have been closely partnering with Snapchat, where they are one of the most prominent content providers in the ‘discovery’ section of the social media platform.





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Student comments on Where is the meat Buzzfeed?

  1. Interesting post! I still do frequently see “copied” posts where the list has been pulled directly from another website. I think the confusing part is that the posts have the name and photo of a “Writer” or “Contributor” at the top, which is almost equivalent to making a claim of original content. Scrolling down quickly shows many displeased comments. BuzzFeed has to become more transparent as to its sourcing, or label such posts differently, as to not attract so much negative publicity.

  2. Agreed that transparency is probably more the issue here. I feel like a lot of sites these days either directly copy or repackage the same content, although Buzzfeed is probably has the biggest name of these. Ultimately Buzzfeed could be a content generator, in which case readers would expect original content, or it could be just as useful as a content aggregator, with the value proposition being that a lot of interesting and trending content is available quickly in one place. In this case, which is closer to Buzzfeed’s current model, the site just needs to be explicit about the fact that this is their value proposition and do a good job of citing sources.

  3. I wonder if it’s not so much that they rely too much on data, but they rely on the wrong data, or incomplete data. I imagine that one day, algorithms will be smart enough to predict better what people want to read (much like they’re better today at Buzzfeed than they were 10 years ago).

  4. I agree with Donald. I think machine learning and algorithms will be much more sophisticated in the future and solve some of their problems. However, I do think that differentiated content creation is also important as well. As we see from Netflix, just providing content available that’s available elsewhere wasn’t providing them with the growth and sustainability in the long run. When they started producing exclusive content, their value proposition to customers are a lot higher thus a higher propensity to spend (I imagine they will raise prices later). Buzzfeed also creates short videos online that can be compared to Netflix’s strategy.

  5. “When the BuzzFeed algorithm determines a piece of content on one of these sites to be “going viral” it triggers the story and flows it into rotation on a set of reserved units on BuzzFeed.Com

    “Going viral” is a proprietary measure, but we can at least say that it takes into account total traffic to a story in relation to the portion of that traffic that comes from sharing platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon, Digg, and any other external sources that. (Traffic driven to a story from a publisher’s home page is not counted as viral because that audience is already on the publisher’s site.)” This is what the Buzzed site says about its algorithm, and I have to agree with Donald and Cal that based on this, there is a problem at the data level, the algorithm being calibrated the wrong way.

    The secondary problem with sites like this is that they believe that content is commoditized, when it really is not – high quality and original content is still the currency without which aggregator sites cannot exist. Facebook’s NewsFeed also faces similar challenges, in that its algorithm – calibrated to try and please such a large audience – ends up showing lots of BuzzFeed worthy content.

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