Bob talks to Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti about how the site works and how it decides how to credit previously existing work.
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BOB GARFIELD: BuzzFeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti, in response to Manjoo, says, “Well, they’re not stealing anything.”
JONAH PERETTI: The post under discussion in that Slate piece was a post about faith in humanity, which he suggested we stole the idea of “faith from humanity” from a particular blogger from Reddit. And the truth is that all across the Web there’s a trope talking about when something gives you faith in humanity, and –
BOB GARFIELD: It’s – it’s become genericized, in a sense.
JONAH PERETTI: It’s become genericized, and it’s really difficult to know who created or what group of people often created a particular image or a particular story, because these images show up everywhere across all of these different user-generated platforms.
Now, if you see a particular image and you go search Reddit, you’ll find that image there. And you’ll also find it if you search Pinterest. You’ll also find it if you are able to search 4chan. You’ll also find it on Tumblr. And so, it’s very difficult to know where did the image start and how did it spread and who created it. A lot of times anonymous groups of very creative people all contribute to making something great in Web culture.
BOB GARFIELD: If you were to read a book, hypothetically, and the first line were, say, just to pluck something out of the ether, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and your lead the next day goes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was also kind of in the middle,” do you credit this Charles Dickens guy, who – started the ball rolling?
JONAH PERETTI: Yeah, you should definitely credit.
BOB GARFIELD: So he’s saying that you don’t do that well enough, that within your lists there are items that were clearly plucked from Reddit or other sources.
JONAH PERETTI: Well –
BOB GARFIELD: That you can, at a minimum, give a shout-out, even though you buffed it up, shined it, gotten it ready for sale, you know, like a used car dealer [LAUGHS] –
-that it’s still somebody else’s contrivance.
JONAH PERETTI: We have a team of very creative team who meet and brainstorm and, and talk about what kinds of things could they make to delight people, what kind of content can they create that people will want to share. And those people are also reading everything that is created across the social Web – on Tumblr, on Reddit, on Twitter, on Facebook. And they have a tremendous sense of what resonates, what people like, what’s already been created and how to build on top of that.
And so, I think, you know, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, we all are inspired by other people. And I think the culture of the Web progresses when people see other people’s work and are inspired by it and strive to make it better and build on top of it. And that’s really how all of the stuff is built.
BOB GARFIELD: Are you standing on the shoulders of giants or on the shoulders of a billion midgets?
JONAH PERETTI: [LAUGHS] We’re standing on the shoulders, in some cases, of pimply 13-year-olds who have a lot of time on their hands –
-and are very clever and very creative and make some wondrous things on the Internet. But the team that we have at BuzzFeed isn’t pimply 13-year-olds and they often are able to add a lot to that content and make it into something better.
BOB GARFIELD: Added value.
JONAH PERETTI: Yes, always.
BOB GARFIELD: Even if you’ve not been preparing for sale.
JONAH PERETTI: I mean, one of our credos is always add value. Always build on things, always make things better, and then always think about the user and, and why does someone think something’s worth sharing with all their friends. It’s something pretty amazing to say, “I’m gonna take this and share it with all my friends.” That’s a high bar. I think when you look at the history of the Web, you see earlier stages of the Web where people just said I want to get clicks or slide show views on – in the portal area of the Web, and in the search area of the Web, people just crammed key words in and you’d see people focused on, on making something for Google’s robot.
Now we ought to make content for real humans sharing with other real humans, and that means we really need to do great work and we need to make things that touch people emotionally and inspire people to pass something on to a friend.
BOB GARFIELD: There’s this fantastic lawyer joke, the punchline of which is, “There’s just some things even a rat won’t do.” Are there some things that an – even an aggregator won’t do? What are the redlines?
JONAH PERETTI: One of the biggest challenges we have is BuzzFeed users, who aren’t on our Editorial Team, who will go to the front of Reddit and take something, and it was already on the front page of Reddit. And we actually don’t post stuff like that onto the front page of BuzzFeed because it doesn’t add any value. So we have a team that is looking at lots of posts on many different Web culture sites and thinking about how to make something that’s better than the sum of its parts. That’s really sort of the, the key to it.
We also see that a lot of traditional media sites and Web 1.0 sites have trouble when they cover Web culture, particularly when they cover sites like 4chan and Reddit and Tumblr and Pinterest, in understanding that the culture is and what the language is, and which things are novel and which things are just in the air and genericized. And that creates a lot of confusion when trying to understand what does a particular BuzzFeed post mean.
BOB GARFIELD: Are you calling me old?
JONAH PERETTI: I’m not calling you old.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Jonah. I think we’ve played to a draw. Listen, thank you very, very much.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
JONAH PERETTI: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Jonah Peretti is a founder of BuzzFeed and before that, Huffington Post.