In business, we love trends, they’re very tempting. Who wouldn’t want to ride the wave of success and follow in the footsteps of unicorns? Pretty human, isn’t it? But what about value? What about building something beyond the buzz?
You may have read the article I wrote about Buzz Publishing (if not, it’s here).
I wanted to follow up with another piece, featuring a few other examples of what BuzzFeed clones are doing to lure visitors into their web properties (visitors they usually consider as mere eyeballs for Adsense commercials).
I discovered that the actor Ashton Kutcher (who has invested so far in more than 40 startups) soft launched last year his own Buzz website, under the brand A+ (if you like losing your precious time deciphering cryptographic titles, here’s the link). This clone has a pretty decent Alexa ranking (probably fueled by the gazillions of Kutcher fans around the world).
But, let’s have a look at today’s News Section, just out of sheer juvenile curiosity.
OK so the concept of clickbait is: hide the facts behind an intriguing title which teases people enough to bring them to your website where they will start generating pageviews. OK, I get it, but at the end of the day, do we really need this? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to curate the news and share the most meaningful ones for what they truly are? I mean, for business people “time is money”, right? But for the average Joe, time is also a scarce commodity, a privilege you can’t waste on clicking like a headless chicken around squeeze pages & conversion funnels. We all deserve better than that. As a matter of fact, those websites don’t build any knowledge base, as you can see from the organic search they’re driving (I invite you to repeat the exercise for ViralNova, TheLadBible, Upworthy and even BuzzFeed (even if they get more organic searches from people searching… BuzzFeed = the power of the brand). It’s a way to prove the argument that we don’t need most of the repurposed info those guys funnel through their publications. News are inherently associated with the “NOW” whereas knowledge usually stands the test of time. But Buzz Publishers serve “Uber Now on steroids” to use some of our startup verbiage. The issue is that it’s wrapped in non-recyclable digital containers. After the tipping point, when the sharing curve goes down, the long tail benefit of all that junk is close to none.
I think that the next generation of news websites should pay more attention to the legacy of the content they’re piling up. This would enable them to provide a real service to the public by indexing the knowledge they’re gathering in a searchable way. At the moment, they’re just polluting the atmosphere by adding tons of meaningless data on Amazon S3 servers. And Ashton’s self-indulgent iteration is probably not the worst.
Here is what Emerson told the New Yorker:
“We considered making Dose more mission-driven,” he said. “Then I thought, rather than facing that dilemma every day—what’s going to get views versus what’s going to create positive social impact?—it would be simpler to just focus on traffic.” He sometimes phrases this sentiment in the snappy style of Dose headlines: “You can have whatever personal values you want, but businesses that don’t provide what the customers want don’t remain businesses. Literally, never.”
Emerson “considered” to be mission-driven but he gave up.
And here is the result. I won’t add comments to the titles :-)
Want another one? I came across Elite Daily, via a piece in Forbes (those guys are legit) asking the simple question: “Is Elite Daily the new BuzzFeed?” (I was curious to see if someone was baking an original news format). Their website is clean, beautifully designed but when you open the “news” section, here is what you get.
Here is the founder’s ambition, at the end of the Forbes article:
The end goal? “We have a sign,” says David Arabov. “It says 150 million [views]. We want to be the leaders of tomorrow. We want to be that next big media company.”
Maybe it just reflects where we stand as a society, at least in the so-called developed countries. We might be bored with life, after centuries of fighting for our basic rights, we might want to escape the gloom of (inflated?) terror threats, who knows. But the kind of “news” we see on our Facebook feeds (even if Zuck & friends do an increasingly good job at filtering out the junk) could only be described as a terrible waste of brain resources, both on the side of the writer (some of them are pretty talented) as on the side of the readers (there is so much “valuable” stuff you could spend your reading time on).
Sometimes, my belief in humanity is restored by the quality of a mainstream blockbusters. See for instance The Theory of Everything (Stephen Hawking’s biopic) or The Imitation Game (in which Benedict Cumberbatch cracks the Enigma code). And even more delightful, the fact that Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
It proves that there is a glimpse of hope. All faith isn’t lost in our ability to entertain ourselves with quality content. I’m not against a Candy Crush craving from time to time in the Tube or even an hour or two of pointless Clash of Clans trolls smashing but, as a father of three kids, I simply hope that entrepreneurs all around the globe won’t give up their crazy ideals for cheap & easy tricks. It takes time to build value but value lasts while novelty fades away. And the good thing is that the intrinsic structure of the worldwide web tends to reward value builders in the long run.
Be creative. Be bold. Build value.
Photo: Unsplash – Josh Felise