Saturday, May 01, 2010

Jonah Peretti on "Mormons, Mullets and Maniacs"



Still at ROFLcon and having a ball! There are sooo many super-smart people here!! Speaking of super-smart people, We're listening now to Jonah Peretti -- we've long been a fan of Jonah's and have written about his Nike Shoe meme and his Black People Love Us meme in a bunch of places.

Jonah is talking how things get taken up on online and become popular memes. He talks about an interesting phenomenon about "hindsight bias"--where memes and trends are traced back to influential people in order to explain them, but this isn't quite how it works.

He talks about Duncan Watts' music popularity experiment, and how Watts found very quickly that social influence very much shapes what's popular and what isn't.

The latest research shows that we can't predict who can make something popular or what will become popular.

Jonah talks about viral memes he's generated--like the Nike shoes, the New York Rejection phoneline, Black People Love Us, his Twitter-based Pick-Your-Own-Adventure.

Buzzfeed.com is a tool that helps you to measure the "social reproduction rate" of things online. It's a metric to show what's getting shared and where.

Users behave in very different ways in very different contexts--they'll behave differently when they're searching, when they're sharing, when they're reading/viewing. For example, something sexual in nature might get a high click-thru rate, but not necessarily have a high share rate.

Buzzfeed uses their metric to help promote things online by watching what has high click-thru and sharing rates and promoting those even more.

Jonah's third strategy for attracting attention online is the "mullet strategy" (business in the front, and part in the back). Jonah is a co-founder of the Huffington Post--which posts serious links and stories on its front page; but then you have the party in the back with commenters saying crazy things, and being rewarded for such, people blogging etc. This part in the back generates the cool stuff which then can get brought forward if they're front-page worthy as per the popularity/performance metric and the traffic its attracting.

Jonah's strategy #4 for attracting attention online is to target "maniacs". He studies what makes people themselves interesting--for example, narcissistic, histrionic personality disorders manifested online.He reads from a psychiatric manual and raises the question of where would You/tube be without people with this kind of disorder...

Elf Yourself, for example, plays into our narcissistic sides. As another example, he tweeted "Twitter is a simple service for smarft people. Facebook is a smart service for simple people"--this was retweeted thousands of times because people were gratified about being smart people for using Twitter, and because it has a dig at Facebook.

Strategy #5: Jonah asks: Which is better: Judaisim or Mormons. He explains that Judaism is a high quality religion but according to performance metrics, isn't performing so well, but the Mormons are actively keeping track of their conversion rates, They actively spread Mormonism, and so on. He suggests studying the Mormons because they have social imperatives, strong networks, a mechanism built in for spreading their ideas, and make evangelism core to your strategy.

Colin asked if becoming more science-y in his approach to contagious ideas, and Jonah explained that becoming more science-y actually helps him to be more creative because he can focus on those ideas that he has a better sense they'll be taken up over other ideas. For Jonah, arft and science very much belong together.

In response to another question about creativity,Jonah reminds us that when you create something and put it online, you lose control over the meaning of it. He talks about how BlackPeopleLoveUs attracted so many different interpretations (so some got it's orioginal intention which was to have a jab at white liberal folk, others saw it as derogatory towards Black folk, and then white supremists took offence at it as well). Jonah is very interested in how people take up an idea they find online, how they interact with it, how it gets spread, and what it gets made into.

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