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Wow. Facebook just did something amazing to crummy meme sites. And what they do next might shock everyone. - Salon

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It's Facebook's Internet. We just get to borrow it. 

One slightly terrifying fact (for an employee of an online media organization) about the rise of the viral publishers last year was how each new one was less labor-intensive than the last. Each step on the path from BuzzFeed to Upworthy to ViralNova involved fewer paid humans putting less thought into each iteration of the viral-manipulation industry. Say what you will about BuzzFeed (and I have), but at least they make things. A lot of people work there, creating original stories and videos and other pieces of information and entertainment and journalism known collectively and depressingly as “content.” Upworthy makes headlines — literally dozens of them for each tiny “story” — and then embeds or links to images and videos created by others. They repackage existing content. Obviously, so does BuzzFeed. And so do Salon, and Slate, and the Entire Internet. But Upworthy realized that all it had to do was repackage existing content, and not bother to create any of its own. And then Upworthy spent 2013 kicking everyone’s else’s ass.

ViralNova seemed the logical, terrible endpoint of the entire thing. It is powered purely by cynicism and contempt. The whole site is (was?) literally one guy who realized he could pretty much do exactly what Upworthy was doing, except by himself and without any earnest illusions about making the world a better place. The founder of ViralNova discovered that it didn’t even matter if the content was recently created, or from a reliable source, or true, or even plausible. All that mattered was a headline and an image, and the shares would follow. In December 2013, the site had 66 million unique visitors. (That, for the record, is a lot.) The site’s creatorhopes to unload it for seven figures, in part because he recognizes that Facebook could cripple its traffic in an instant if it decided to.

Facebook seems to have decided to. Facebook may have slayed this entire little industry with one blow:

Between November 2013 and January 2014, a long list of so-called “social publishers” saw their traffic dip substantially, according to comScore. Traffic to Upworthy dropped 51 percent. Traffic to Elite Daily dropped 47 percent. Traffic to Vice dropped 22 percent, to BroBible by 17 percent, to Huffington Post by 16 percent. Between December and January traffic to Distractify and Thought Catalog dropped 30 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

What’s more, traffic to all of those sites was on a broad upward trajectory prior to the January lull. Elite Daily, for example, saw its number of unique users balloon from around 2.3 million in September, to nearly 9 million in December, and attributed the growth to Facebook. Upworthy also enjoyed healthy growth over that period, climbing from 6 million uniques in August to 14 million in November.

A couple of engineers make a couple of tweaks and suddenly what was once the most sharable content on the Web is a lot less shared. It’s easy to read into this a slightly ominous message: This is Facebook’s Internet, and the media is just attempting to find a way to sustain itself in it.

* * *

New York Times social media staff editor Michael Roston had some very useful advice: “Don’t depend on an outside social network for your traffic.” That seems like an obvious lesson, except that everyone forgot to come up with a better idea.

It had been decided by all the gurus that the social media sites were the new home pages, and the future of news distribution. And Facebook is, at the moment, the only truly important social media site. (Journalists all prefer Twitter, because it’s more conducive to the sharing of news, but Facebook crushes Twitter in terms of audience size and reach.)

Good old fashioned human posters will not be deterred, we will find a way to get it posted  ;)

That is a very good point. Humans find a way. 

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