Ben Collins Digital Ben Collins Digital Icon

How do you advertise on Upworthy? is a website built for fun and profit. It's also a case study of the changing definition of value in our content-centric digital world. Critics might argue that Upworthy is a "content farm" or "viral mill" that is curating other people's content for their own benefit. I argue it's a massive social evolution experiment about how language works. I can imagine Douglas Adams having written a book called The Index of Ultimate Things in which there is an entry titled "The Ultimate Headline", which of course was penned on Upworthy in the early 21stCentury on planet Earth (an insignificant dirt ball in the middle of nowhere that failed to accomplish anything more notable than this).

The way that Upworthy actually functions seems to be a kind of feedback loop based on the success of their content curation. For a very long time, editors have tried to come up with killer headlines so people will buy their newspaper (etc). But until now, I don't think there has ever been such a singular focus on how the human being defines "shareable". This is some psionic psychology going on, but also I imagine some real heartfelt hard work and a new kind of real skill at hacking our social consciousness.

But how the hell do they (plan to) make money? They are able to create value in the so-called attention economy but today, the exchange from eyeballs to dollar bills is far murkier than bitcoins. I think they are positioning themselves to provide a mindset platform. A mindset that values creativity and authenticity. A mindset of customers that don't like being force fed by brands. While we all are tired of being interrupted before getting to the (often ephemeral) content we wish to enjoy, the lack of profitability of most other approaches has been a harsh reality.

Maybe Upworthy can figure out a way to offer brands a space to express their real views about the world instead of just shill their wares. Maybe it will be a place for CEO interviews... Who needs to see Tesla or Virgin ads when you enjoy just listening to their CEO talk? Regardless, there doesn't seem to be a "buy now" button for me to purchase an ad (write my own headline?). I guess their sales strategy is currently more hands-on. Whatever the case, their growth in 2013 was one of the real internet success stories of the year, so hopefully they can capitalize on the moment.

More in Business