Why does Upworthy make you watch videos

Social with spin

Upworthy is one of the fastest growing websites - with socially important topics. Technology Review asked the founders how it works.

Upworthy rarely produces its own content, instead it highlights videos that users post on the Internet: about same-sex marriages, health reforms, racial prejudice, equality and other topics that their makers find interesting. The site was founded by Eli Pariser, who headed the left wing of the US political movement "MoveOn", and Peter Koechley, formerly with the American satirical magazine "The Onion". In this way, you want to spread progressive content as quickly and widely, i.e. virally, as possible.

Technology Review: You work with Upworthy to regularly ensure that videos about important social issues go viral. How do you do it?

Eli Pariser: Hundreds of millions, if not billions of videos are uploaded every month. Our employees look specifically for the few hundred that deal with important topics and are meaningful and, above all, very captivating. We use a variety of tools to do this, but ultimately the system is based on the decision of the content managers and their ability to track down videos, charts or graphics that blow them away.

TR: And then they formulate headlines that have become Upworthy's trademark - peppered with superlatives like "the greatest", "the most terrible", "the most terrifying". Why does it have to sound like the next click will change readers' lives?

Peter Koechley: We use the headlines to get someone to watch a seven-minute video on depression or twelve minutes on climate change. If we were to write, "This is a 12 minute video about climate change," we can be sure that people will not click that. But when we catch their curiosity or interests, we bring them closer to content that they really want to see.

Parisians: Typically, content managers write about 25 headings and then select four to test. Sometimes they change them several times in a row. We work in a similar way to a cabaret artist who first tests in Minnesota before the big show in New York, what people laugh about. But you're going to have to change your style if you want to keep standing out.

TR: Upworthy-style headlines are all over the web these days.

Koechley: Absolutely. We test a whole battery of new styles, formats and ideas every day.

TR: Eli Pariser, in your book "The Filter Bubble" you criticize the way in which the Internet only offers users the information that they supposedly want to read based on their individual search history. So it's disappointing that Upworthy reports on the same content over and over again and doesn't really encourage liberal views. You play it safe.

Koechley: Our primary goal was to get people to spend at least five minutes a day on important social issues. We designed a platform that encourages users to develop new views or to review their previous ones. But this year we are also planning content that we have not yet delved deeper into. For example, we have a partnership with the Gates Foundation to report on health and poverty.

TR: There are hardly any ads on the site. How do you want to make money?

Parisians: So far we have mainly taken care of building our community. But we are currently testing some options for generating income. We like the model in which a foundation or a similar group financially supports our editorial work on certain content. (bsc)

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