Thursday, October 17, 2013

Upworthy’s Secret to Making Serious, Seemingly Unsexy Subjects Go Viral

Updated (12/9/2013)

In July, David Carr profiled the first 100 days of a website called Upworthy:

“Upworthy, a news aggregation site that began publishing on March 26, is serious news built for a spreadable age, with super clicky headlines and a visually oriented user interface. Eli Pariser, the former executive director of, and Peter Koechley, a former managing editor of the Onion who also worked at MoveOn, noticed that much of the media that gets shared online is built on cute animals and dumb humans that are good for a laugh, but not much else ...

“By putting tasty headlines on nutritious subjects—chocolate sauce on brussels sprouts, as it were—Upworthy can make the sharing impulse work on topics beyond LOLCats and fashion disasters.

Then, a few days ago, the Times followed-up with another mash note:

“There is conventional wisdom about what kind of material will go viral on the Internet: celebrity slide shows, lists like 10 tips for losing belly fat, and quirky kitten antics.

“Then there is the path of, whose goal is to make more serious content as fun to share as a “video of some idiot surfing off his roof.” Surfing idiots are tough to beat, of course, but Upworthy has shown that by selecting emotional material and then promoting it with catchy, pretested headlines, it can fulfill its mission: to direct Internet audiences to what it deems socially worthwhile subjects.

“Already the site has drawn millions of people to share videos about sober topics like income inequality and human trafficking. A video featuring Patrick Stewart discussing domestic violence was uploaded more than six million times after it was posted in May.