Fusion’s Felix Salmon did a totally epic, 23,000-word “longread” with BuzzFeed founder and nascent media mogul Jonah Peretti, where we, the public, got to learn that even though Peretti is the king of viral content, he’s just like us! (Seriously, if you’re interested in the future of media and the internet, do read it. Peretti’s an emerging power and voice and what he’s doing with BuzzFeed will ripple out into the world.) But in the meantime, here are 10 things we learned about Peretti from the interview — with accompanying GIFs. Of course.
1. Sometimes he has trouble with The New York Times.
“[There is a] bedrock assumption that The New York Times’s content is just the best content… [But] sometimes, the stories are boring, or, by certain metrics of excellence, they’re not excellent content. The [New York Times Innovation] Report was a little too harsh on their tech and product team, and not critical enough on their editorial team.”
2. He was a teacher before he was in media!
“Sitting in front of a bunch of 12-year-olds or a bunch of 17-year-olds and having to try to explain something to them … was a good reminder that it’s possible to communicate.”
3. His first success, the early (and accidental) viral hit “Nike Sweatshop email” led to a lifelong fascination with the nature of virality and networks.
“[The way people reacted to the email] was this giant, unfolding, complex problem with different areas that you could spend a whole lifetime thinking about and working on from the structural mathematical sense of networks. All those things working together started to feel like the way the media industry’s going to work. That’s the way content and ideas will spread. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a broadcast pipe or printing press and trucks driving around newspapers. It feels like there’s this new, different way that people are just beginning to understand.”
This is clearly something Peretti is thinking about all the time, as it takes up much of the interview. He was working out a post-Grad in the MIT Media Lab when this viral stuff started happening. Bill Wasik’s book about web culture, 2009’s And Then There’s This, profiles Peretti post-Huffpo, pre-BuzzFeed becoming a thing.
4. Black people love him! (And his sister, Brooklyn 99 star and comedian Chelsea Peretti)
On his early viral site, Black People Love Us!: “The effect we wanted was to, at least in my mind, satirize shallow liberals and their relationships with people of color that they were using for their own vanity instead of something real.”
5. The Huffington Post succeeded due to a combination of virality and “stickiness” (i.e., constant updates)!
“One [idea] was to make the site itself viral, which was celebrities blogging… [The site] had all the things that blogs were supposed to have so that people who knew about blogging would see it and say, ‘Oh, Larry David is blogging.’ Not, ‘Larry David’s doing some weird new thing that Arianna Huffington invented.’ We knew that was the piece that was going to make it take off and be contagious. Then [publisher] Andrew [Breitbart] posting links and headlines that were constantly updated would be the thing that made it sticky.”
6. He likes to be an innovator!
“I like to be working in sectors where there’s no clear model to find yet, where things like social and mobile and online video or things that are still evolving so quickly that there’s not a clear, stable business there yet. ”
7. He likes to read news on BuzzFeed!
“We’re definitely making a big investment in news. It is generating considerable attention and traffic and influence. I think you’ll see more of it.”
8. He’s wonky about content, virality, and the relationship between tech companies, their products, and how people consume them.
See: the whole piece. It’s kind of insider-nerd-city. Which is fine! But it’s also hard not to think: where are the interesting voices and writers coming out of BuzzFeed, and can it ever happen when their journalism and news is mostly referred to as “content?” We know The Huffington Post has news, but is there any writing coming out of there that matters, beyond Ariana Huffington’s continued point of view?
9. He’s enthusiastic!
“If there’s something that is worth someone’s time that is interesting and is worthy of being excited about, we should cover that.”
10. Ultimately, he wants to have fun at work. He’s not one of those snarky British people who are like “that’s why they call it work.” He’s not like the other bosses. He’s a cool boss!
“I just think people having fun and people who are enjoying their work and people who are laughing about what they’re doing and feeling like you can make a mistake and it’s not like you get yelled at or you get fired, are all pretty important.”