BuzzFeed, the Ad Model for the Facebook Era

Business Week Mar 23, 2012 Back to press

On a Tuesday in February, Matt Stopera, a 24-year-old senior editor at a website called BuzzFeed, saw something hilarious on Twitter. It was an image from the archives of Sports Illustrated, circa 1991, of the diminutive TV nerd Urkel playing hoops with actor Will Smith and Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller. The next day at work, Stopera looked around the Internet for photographs in a similar spirit. He found one of Ginger Spice sitting at a bulky desktop computer and another of Arsenio Hall grinning at Bill Clinton, who was wailing on a saxophone. He arranged the photos on a single page, wrote a pithy caption for each one, and listed photo credits where he could.

At around 5 p.m., Stopera published “48 Pictures That Perfectly Capture the ’90s” on BuzzFeed. “These pictures are all that and a bag of chips!” he wrote at the top of the list. A BuzzFeed visitor with an appetite for ’90s nostalgia could scroll down, gawk at the 48 retro images, read the deadpan captions, recall Bob Saget, Tipper Gore, and Scottie Pippen, laugh at the crazy fashion, and resurface to the present day in a matter of minutes. It racked up 1.2 million page views.

At a time when massively popular Internet sensations often seem random—irreplicable one-offs such as “Kony 2012″—Stopera produces reliable hits. In recent months his blockbusters have included “25 Extremely Upsetting Reactions to Chris Brown at the Grammys” (2.5 million page views), “40 Things That Will Make You Feel Old” (3.2 million), and “the 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011″ (10.1 million). In terms of lasting cultural impact, Stopera’s recent run falls far short of, say, Phil Spector’s streak of Top 40 hits in the ’60s, or Brandon Tartikoff’s top-rated sitcoms in the ’80s. But there’s something about Stopera’s lists on BuzzFeed that calls to mind every bewildering pop-culture streak you’ve ever puzzled over. It suggests somebody has cracked a code.

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