kottke.org posts about Jonah Peretti
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!
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.
A long and thorough history of The Huffington Post from Michael Shapiro at Columbia Journalism Review. HuffPo cofounder Jonah Peretti calls it “the best article that will ever be written about the creation of the Huffington Post”.
In the course of a few hours, Peretti would watch with wonderment as Arianna Huffington eased herself from setting to setting, all the while making the person she was talking with feel like the most interesting and important person in the world, hanging on every word, never shifting her attention to check one of three BlackBerries. “I loved being a gatherer,” Huffington would later say. “I don’t really think you can make gathering mistakes.”
Peretti saw this talent through a different prism. “Arianna,” he says, “can make weak ties into strong ties.”
He returned to New York to discover that Lerer was already a few steps ahead of him. He wanted to talk about the venture the three of them would embark upon. “I remember him saying things like, ‘We don’t want to build a big website,’” Peretti would recall. “‘We want to build an influential site.’”
Sort of related: there’s an interesting article to be written about Google’s relationship with blogs. Early on, blogs provided Google’s Pagerank algorithm with plenty of links to rank (I would argue that without blogs and the personal web, Pagerank simply wouldn’t have worked…businesses didn’t link to anyone but themselves at that time) and then a few years later, with Huffington Post leading the charge, blogs filled Google with all sorts of crap and nonsense that made it less useful.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ben Horowitz frequently turns to rap music for business wisdom.
Much of rap is about business, whether the drug business, the music industry or work ethic, said Adam Bradley, an associate professor specializing in African-American literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder who wrote “Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop” and co-edited “The Anthology of Rap.”
“It comes out of the fact that rap is such a direct mode of expression, maybe more so than any other music lyric, because of the emphasis on language, of words above melody or harmony,” Mr. Bradley said.
People think of rap lyrics as being only about money, women, status and cocaine, he said, but more pervasive themes are leadership, collaboration and the vulnerability beneath the swagger — all relevant in business.
Reminds me of this line by Jonah Peretti:
“Remember, you’re not selling out,” Jonah Peretti, a co-founder of the Huffington Post, told Denton. “You’re blowing up. Think in terms of hip-hop, not indie rock.”
Big-seed marketing. Instead of relying purely on viral marketing or mass media marketing alone, big-seed marketing combines the two approaches so that a large initial audience spreads the marketing message to a secondary audience, yielding more overall interest than either approach would have by itself, even if the message isn’t that contagious. “Because big-seed marketing harnesses the power of large numbers of ordinary people, its success does not depend on influentials or on any other special individuals; thus, managers can dispense with the probably fruitless exercise of predicting how, or through whom, contagious ideas will spread.”
Update: Full paper with data is here. (via atomiq)
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.
This one guy tried to get the word “sweatshop” printed on his custom Nike shoes and Nike wouldn’t let him. “The Personal iD on my custom ZOOM XC USA running shoes was the word ‘sweatshop.’ Sweatshop is not: 1) another’s party’s trademark, 2) the name of an athlete, 3) blank, or 4) profanity. I choose the iD because I wanted to remember the toil and labor of the children that made my shoes. Could you please ship them to me immediately.”