Monday, August 4, 2014

When It Comes to Going Viral, Quality Trumps Timeliness

Upworthy and Viral Nova, two of the web’s hottest, most viral sites, don’t care about timeliness—that is, whether they’re the first to break a story. They focus instead on the quality of their content. This is a lesson the New York Times would do well to learn.

Indeed, there are 15 million articles in the Times’s archives. The Gray Lady needs to do a better job of resurfacing this archival content.

For example, earlier this year, Gawker repackaged a 161-year-old Times article on Solomon Northup timed to the release of 12 Years a Slave. The Gawker post generated 200,000 page views.

Such arts and culture stories—about movies, museums, books, and theater—remain relevant long after they’re published. As the Times’s own innovation report puts it, “We can be both a daily newsletter and a library—offering news every day, as well as providing context, relevance and timeless works of journalism.”

Another example: On a whim, Times staffer Andrew Phelps made a Flipboard magazine of the paper’s best obits from 2013. It became the best-read collection ever on Flipboard. Why isn’t the Times doing stuff like this on its own platforms?

Lessons: Resurface old content (with a caveat). And tag everything.

Addendum: Felix Salmon: “Too many news organizations make their publication decisions based on what other news organizations have already published … when journalists start caring about scoops and exclusives, that’s a clear sign that they’re publishing mainly for the benefit of other journalists, rather than for their readers.”

Addendum (8/12/2014): Matt Buchanan: “There's already a certain apathy toward the origin of things—that's how we wound up with Distractify pulling in 21 million uniques in its second month, Ashton Kutcher funding the ‘fastest-growing site in the history of the Internet,’ and ViralNova.”