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Upworthy, The SIte That Learned How to Pander Progressively, Receives 8 Million Dollars in Funding
Monday, September 16, 2013 - 10:33 AM
Upworthy announced they've received 8 million dollars in funding this morning, which means much more Upworthy for the foreseeable future.
When the site was first announced, Upworthy promised to be Buzzfeed, but for progressive message spreading. That seemed crazy. Buzzfeed works because it panders to your attention-span so beautifully. To truly pander, it helps to be message agnostic. You like cats? Here's 28 cat pictures. Like dogs instead? We got that too. There's no larger agenda beyond "keep clicking, please."
Pandering with purpose seems square, sad, and hopeless. 27 Jaw-Dropping Photos from Labor Rallies! 13 Benefits of Obamacare that'll Rock Your Morning! Upworthy's mission statement sounded deeply naive.
But like Christian Rock, Upworthy's proved that you can make a lot of money by preaching to the choir. If you build like-minded people a safe place to agree with each other, they will come. (see also, San Francisco.)
What was hard to foresee is how annoying the Upworthy formula would prove to be. Buzzfeed, but with sanctimony. For instance, the splash page where Upworthy asks for your email address so that they can spam you looks like this:
It's the exact same messaging that jerks with clipboards on the street deploy: "Hey, you'll sign this petition because you believe global warming's bad, right?" And that's mostly how the site plays throughout. A lot of content that mirrors the political email forwards you delete, packaged as heart-warming content you'll be itching to share. Politics for the very lazy.
In retrospect, I feel a bit dumb for not realizing that there'll always be an audience that wants to be told that every political issue is simple, and that they're on the right side of it. They're the same people who keep The Newsroom on the air, and who find Lawrence O'Donnell heroic. It's just surprising that the guy who would figure out how best to cater to them would be the same guy who warned us that the internet will isolate us into silos of people who just agree with one another.