A number of people who I work with everyday have heard me saying this; I don’t particular like Buzzfeed (yep, no linking here). The click-bait article publishing website which polluted my newsfeed on Facebook for a long time, until I blocked anymore links from Buzzfeed. So when I saw the article: BuzzFeed: An Open Letter to Ben Horowitz published by Frederic Filloux over the weekend, I said to myself, “Finally somebody invested the time to write about this!” and stood up to give the writer an applause. My favorite passage:
I spent some time trying to overcome my reluctance to BuzzFeed’s editorial content. I wanted to to convince myself that I might be wrong, that BuzzFeed could in fact embodysome version of journalism’s future. But if that’s the case, I will quickly resettle in a remote place of New Mexico or Provence.
BuzzFeed is to journalism what Geraldo is to Walter Cronkite. It sucks. It is built on meanest of readers’ instincts. These endless stream of crass listicles are an insult to the human intelligence and goodness you personify. Even Business Insider, a champion practitioner of cheap click-bait schemes, looks like The New York Review of Books compared to BuzzFeed. And don’t tell me that, by hiring a couple of “seasoned editors and writers” as the PR spin puts it, BuzzFeed will become a noble and notable contributor of information. We never saw a down/mass market product morphing into a premium media. You can delete as many posts as you wish, it won’t alter BF’s peculiar DNA.
Fact is, quality content does exist in BuzzFeed (an example here), but in the same way as a trash can contains leftovers of good food: you must go deep to find it.
Exactly how I think about Buzzfeed. Why do I think this way; well, before I blocked Buzzfeed in my Facebook newsfeed, I was confronted with two articles which made me really sad about the state of the Internet, humanity and most of all, the friends who liked it, shared it or commented on it which made these post appear in my newsfeed:
- 26 People Who Are Too Stupid For Their Own Good
- 20 People We Hope Never To See Promoted On OKCupid
Ok, the first one might be a little funny, where most of the names of the ‘stupid people’ were blurred. The second is just offensive. Who made the editor of this piece of garbage the coolest kid on the block to bash other people who are searching for love? And most stupid of all is Virgin Mobile, who are sponsoring this article, and position their brand next to a blog post trashing other people based on their picture…Yuk! See what it says:
OKCupid is letting users pay to promote their profiles. Let’s hope these guys don’t decide to take advantage.
Ok, so it’s clear why I don’t like Buzzfeed. But what peaked my interest, was what the people on HackerNews were saying about it, the place where I found this open letter to Ben Horowitz. See the post on HN here. With all the hate for SEO normally get as being a deceptive practice from the HN community, I would have expected nothing less for the Click-Bait machine, abusing and making fun of normal people to pump up their Edgerank. As I read the comments, I was surprised to read no haters comments on the low quality editorials Buzzfeed so many times is pushing;
The author is shorted sighted. I’m surprised so many people on HN following his thought patterns, because what Buzzfeed is doing is nothing short of classic disruption.
In a disruptive startup, you always start with a _worse_ product that appeals to a marginally group of users who’ll fervently love you.
The demographic that’s on Buzzfeed all the time, is the type who wouldn’t be reading news anyways. So what if they look at cats and take quizes, and once in a while eyeball an article about Ferguson / Ukraine / ISIS that they wouldn’t have done anyways. Look at http://www.buzzfeed.com/world, how many of those are linkbaits? How many are quality contents? It’s not unimaginable that overtime, the (vegetable news) : (shitty news) ratio can increase….
…Why can’t people accept that Buzzfeed, at its current state, isn’t meant to appeal to everyone? Those who bash at Buzzfeed sound like the mindless YouTube comments on Justin Bieber’s videos saying how shitty his music is. It’s not for you. Don’t listen to it…
Jonah Peretti figured out how to spam the web better than anyone with the Huffington Post. He also figured out how to get away with it. It’s been called the veneer strategy. The idea is to take a little bit of legit content and make it look like that’s the site. In reality all of your real traffic comes into your many thousands of shitty linkbait articles. This throws off Google’s spam team and confuses people about what you’re doing. Hopefully you sell before the house of cards comes crumbling down.
There’s a reason McDonald’s sells salads and it’s not because they believe it’s the future of fastfood. It provides cover when the idea of sickening billions with shitty food occasionally heats up. 
This is a perfect combination of every short-sighted, angry old media, and old man rant I’ve ever come across. I mean, to go from hating on BuzzFeed to somehow ending up on the “Africa is one single country and let’s help it” trope is quite impressive.
Best article that sums up what Buzzfeed is really about, and why I believe it is incredible for the future of journalism is this piece by Felix Salmon. Basically, he makes the point that Buzzfeed is in effect a massive advertising agency, and their content efforts are all experiments to better understand how to reach younger people. They then make money off of selling that expertise to brands.
And although these comments made me think about the post which started this whole rant, it does not change my general thinking if any brand would be smart to put their name next to the pulp articles Buzzfeed is pushing online. Even if the content is improving, the Buzzfeed brand still carries their history with it, and you cannot easily shake of your history and reputation with adding more quality in the mix.
So is there more quality on Buzzfeed?
If I have blocked Buzzfeed from my Facebook newsfeed, how would I be able to know when the inflection point for the quality on Buzzfeed is? Well, I cannot block the entries of Buzzfeed on my favorite technology news aggregator: Techmeme.
And guess what, today Buzzfeed made the homepage of Techmeme with a more quality and informed article on the settlement in the Tinder sexual harassment case. Go figure. 
If the Hackernews community can have an open mind about Click-Bait articles, I guess even I can be open to some higher quality Buzzfeed Pulp!