Our Facebook News Feeds already runneth over with links promising to surprise and/or reaffirm your faith in any number of entities. But recently, you may have noticed that these Upworthy-esque links have gotten even more mindless. More hollow. More all-around absurd. And no, we're not talking about The Onion's Clickhole. This is PlayBuzz.
Founded by the son of a former Israeli prime minister, Shaul Olmert, PlayBuzz is BuzzFeed in its most concentrated form. The condensed milk of viral content sites—boiled down, sweetened, and canned for a shelf-life that spans near-eternity. And unsurprisingly, it's been working. A recent report declared PlayBuzz the second-most shared site on Facebook, just under Huffington Post. It got a million more shares than Buzzfeed itself. Interestingly enough, PlayBuzz is doing it without hardly lifting a finger.
PlayBuzz has a staff of 26 employees, but the majority of those are tech- and coding-related positions. Only five employees create actual "content" for PlayBuzz, but even that aspect of the role is downplayed. We reached out to Olmert to chat with him about his unwieldy pet project, and he was quick to assure us over the phone that "authoring content is not their main role, but one of their many activities which focus on guiding publishers on how to use PlayBuzz."
So who are these people using PlayBuzz's platform to bring us such kernels of internet content candy as "Which Stripe on the American Flag Are You" and "What Breed of Guinea Pig Are You?" Everyone from MTV to the Canadian Olympic Team to Young Conservatives have been hopping aboard the new viral bandwagon.
And PlayBuzz doesn't just give you an outlet for quizzes. There is even the rare article(ish). Take, for instance, this Smart Take on taco trimmings.
Y u no be a bro, indeed.
Not even forced nostalgia is safe. In "17 Things Kids Under 17 Never Heard Of (But They Totally Should)," Playbuzz seems to be confusing kids these days with post-lobotomy patients.
It's almost as if we're staring into Upworthy's very own uncanny valley. PlayBuzz uses the right words. It's posting the right videos. But everything is just ever so slightly off. For instance, this video was posted just a few days ago with the headline "Is This The Funniest DUI Ever?"
Ignoring the fact that, regardless of context, fawning over something so wildly dangerous is off-putting in its own right, this is a video clip from Reno 911.
Almost everything you see could qualify as Clickhole-material minus the (intended) satire. For instance, one of these headlines was written in earnest.
Not sure which? Maybe this slide from the ebola quiz will help.
On the other hand. No, it might not. Because number one is ClickHole, and option number two is an actual (admittedly light-hearted but totally non-scientific and groundless), eight-question quiz meant to assuage people's fears.
It's hard to blame PlayBuzz for the mindless garbage cascading down our News Feeds. The folks at PlayBuzz are fully aware that lists the likes of "10 Reasons Why EVERYONE Wishes They Were Millennials [Because #YOLO right?!]" doesn't have much to offer in terms of any substance whatsoever.
They want you to want to know which Coldplay song you are, sure, but they also want to distance themselves from its spawn. Olmert was quick to emphasize to us that the site is just a platform:
Our goal is to highlight successful items that are frequently adopted by other publishers and embedded on their sites. Much like what YouTube.com is to the YouTube network, playbuzz.com becomes a destination for end users that seek selected playful content from great publishers.
Over half the quizzes littering the front page come with PlayBuzz's green "Community" tag, which signifies outsourcing (and probably sounds a little familiar).
So while Upworthy and Buzzfeed may have perfected the imminently clickable headline, everyone else is running with it to wildly illogical extremes. And PlayBuzz simply gave them a place to fester together.