Summarised: BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti’s very long interview with Felix Salmon

A Buzzfeed quiz

A Buzzfeed quiz


Over on Medium, @felixsalmon has written up his 22000 word interview with Buzzfeed founder @peretti. It’s long. You’re busy. So I’ve read and summarised it so you don’t have to.

Topic of the interview
Jonah Peretti talking to Felix Salmon about creating viral content, and building major media businesses.

Introduction
Salmon (FS) tells us why Peretti (JP) is worth listening to:

JP is now a media mogul, BuzzFeed Inc revenue forecast to be $120 million in 2014.
JP is a nice guy.

Section 1: Print Media
JP:
Likes print and the New York Times, but says their content can be boring.
Flags that, really, the NYT’s big issue is the different cost structure of their future digital business.
Adds that Buzzfeed can do journalism and social impact by combining its content – rather than through the traditional cover story.

Section 2: The Story of Jonah
JP:
Talks about how his career started. He insists it wasn’t planned, but mentions chance, luck and the theories of “preferential attachment or cumulative advantage” – when opportunities lead to more opportunities.

Learnt to communicate complicated ideas, using simple language, by teaching schoolchildren. This led to him presenting at technology conferences, which led to MIT and learning from AI expert Marvin Minsky, and Seymour Papert, who invented “the Logo programming language”.

Was an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, 1996. Mentions reading Foucault, Roland Barthes, Kant, Marx and Freud. And doing 3-D modeling, HTML and JavaScript. Gives a special mention to History of Consciousness classes – postmodernism, critical theory and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Section 3: Discovering Viral
JP:
Talks about creating projects for the MIT Media Lab.
While studying for his Master’s degree in January 2001, he attempted to personalise a Nike shoe – on the Nike ID website. When Nike would not stitch the word “sweatshop” into a shoe, JP entered into an email conversation with the company. This email chain went public, brought JP national attention.

Noted that the media covers a lot of “viral” stories, like his. Which led to exploring network science and the work of Duncan Watts (Watts-Strogatz theorem) on how cricket chirps spread, and “six degrees of separation”.

Other JP viral projects include: Black People Love Us and Rejection Line.

Realised that content and ideas will spread through web networks rather than broadcast TV and newspaper trucks.

Mentions Watts’ forest-fire analogy for virality, and that, in those years, it was easier to attract mainstream media attention with cool projects.

With Black People Love Us, for example, reactions are connected to a matrix “where you have the four quadrants. One dimension is, “Do people get it or do they not get it?” and then another dimension is, “Do they like it or do they hate it?””

Section 4: On Being too Soon in Tech

Created the Black People Love Us, Rejection Line and Fundraise viral projects while working at a “creative space” known as Eyebeam.

Talks positively about the “too-early mode” in invention, when ideas have a wider impact, rather than just make money.

Mentions the Delicious network of engaged users, which led to tagging in Flickr.

Section 5: Odd Bedfellows

And then, dear reader, even I got bored of this interview. I’ll come back and summarise at a later date.

 
See also
Why people share content, according to BuzzFeed & Jonah Berger

Peretti has said: “You’re coming to Buzzfeed’s homepage not for yourself, but to find something to share with someone else.”

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