I love/admire/envy/want to marry and kiss Paul Ford, so I enjoyed his Medium mini-essay on THE DRESS and WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE MEDIA. If you read one piece of dress-related content on your Internet today, make it this one, and also congratulations to you for only reading one piece of dress-related content.
But I do want to take issue with this bit:
What I saw, as I looked through the voluminous BuzzFeed coverage of the dress, is an organization at the peak of a craft they’ve been honing since 2006. They are masters of the form they pioneered. If you think that’s bullshit, that’s fine—I think most things are bullshit too. But they didn’t just serendipitously figure out that blue dress. They created an organization that could identify that blue dress, document it, and capture the traffic. And the way they got those 25 million impressions, as far as I can tell from years of listening to their people, reading their website, writing about them, and not working or writing for them, was something like:
Build a happy-enough workplace where people could screw around and experiment with what works and doesn’t, and pay everyone some money.
Paul's not wrong. I don't disagree with his conclusion, at all — in fact, I'd argue that Gawker pioneered that model (well, minus the "pay everyone" part, at least at first) years before Buzzfeed was founded — but Paul is leaving something out of his explanation of Buzzfeed's success, or at least not explicitly saying it. Where the Buzzfeed crew distinguish themselves from older media organizations, and even many of their contemporary online competitors, is in their lack of quality control, which borders on an actual rejection of the notion that "quality" ought to be an important factor in determining whether or not to publish something.
That's Buzzfeed's crucial differentiating factor. Combine it with their killer CMS (which encourages the rapid creation of exactly the sort of content we imagine when we think of lazy Buzzfeed content), sprinkle huge sacks of money on top, and you have the Buzzfeed secret sauce. The "craft" that they "honed" was, basically, having enough money to pay enough people to throw an infinite amount of shit at the wall (the wall being the internet), secure in the knowledge that some of it will stick and whatever doesn't won't harm the Buzzfeed brand, because "there is a ton of shit on this website" is a central part of the Buzzfeed brand.
So, yes, they were definitely perfectly positioned to capture the dress thing last night, because they have a massive staff (in addition to their horde of unpaid "community" contributors) that could produce a metric ton of (not exclusively lazy and bad, I'll grant) content about a thing that went viral at a time when most New York-based Internet media organizations were either dark for the night or being maintained by a tiny overnight staff. And they didn't have to worry, as almost all other professional media organizations that aren't shady social spam shops do, about having editors or contributors try to maintain a certain standard of quality in all of the publication's work on the subject. That really speeds up the content production process!
The problem with this model is that it produces a lot of bad shit, but that's only a problem if seeing bad shit on the Internet upsets or offends you. Which, I dunno, I guess you just have get over that.