As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

The upstart site that seduces with endless doses of anger, awe, and anxiety

I keep finding myself frequently clicking through Facebook posts by the new site Upworthy.  Apparently I am not alone.  In June 2013 Fast Company reported that:

…the site, dedicated to resharing stories with social impact, is leveraging emotional data to become the fastest-growing media site in history.

Here’s a typical example of their articles, with the headline “This Incredible Time-Lapse Shows Us How Dignity And Respect Can Change A Man.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 9.23.40 AM

This is no amateur endeavor.  It was launched by MoveOn founders Eliot Pariser and Peter Koechley in 2012, and they are known to test up to 16 different headlines on a post.  Their winning editorial approach resulted in 32 million unique visitors in September.  In a NYT feature on the company, Koechley elaborates:

“We think people get virality all wrong,” Mr. Koechley said. “The reason people share things are not just because they are shiny and cute and crazy and fun, but because it is about something they are deeply passionate about. It can be about putting your best aspirational self forward.”

Here’s another example of their approach:

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 9.35.09 AM

This is consistent with a cool study about what New York Times articles go viral.  The answer:  long-form pieces that inspire anger, awe or anxiety.

As an entrepreneur, I often see things through a very selective lens.  In my case, it’s about a drive to create a fair universe for new companies and worthy products.  Back in 2008 in the depths of the economic crisis, when the big institutions of business and government seemed to be letting us down so badly, I believed that people would soon be seeking trustworthy sources to help us take control of our own economic destiny.  It’s a big reason why I founded Grommet.  I wanted to give people examples of this kind of hope and possibility, in the form of company and product creation.

I’m glad to see a media site that is working in a parallel universe of human experience.  Upworthy is a LOT more sophisticated/sensationalist in its use of media than the Grommet, but given the general worthiness of their messages, it’s a manipulation I can (mostly) embrace.

4 Responses to “The upstart site that seduces with endless doses of anger, awe, and anxiety”

    • Jules Pieri

      I just checked it outkind of a cousin to Happier? Thanks for the referral.

  1. larashackelford

    Nice article, Jules. I agree that upworthy is awesome and I also find myself spending time there. In fact, I’ve frequently adopted their approach for my b2b marketing campaigns and find it increases my response rates and sharing dramatically.

    • Jules Pieri

      Lara–I am curious what parts of their approach you have adopted. Is it mainly the headlines? The time stamped annotation of the videos? The bold claims about your emotional responses?


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