Web Ruled By Maniacs

The secret to getting big traffic on the Internet is to target bored office workers and crazy people.

In “The Secrets Behind a Viral Web Hit-And the Huffington Post’s Success,” Peter Kafka passes along a presentation by Jonah Peretti on boosting Internet traffic.  The key takeaways:

  • Bored at Work Network:  Millions of bored office workers are the target audience
  • Content must be easy to understand, easy to share, and include a social imperative
  • Business Up Front, Party In Back:  Intermix hard news with stuff people really want to see
  • “The web is ruled by maniacs like Perez Hilton, Ron Paul zealots, Apple fan boys, blog commenters, animal lovers, and other crazy people”
  • “Content is more viral if it helps people fully express their personality disorders”
  • “Couch potatoes don’t matter, crazy people do”

It’s a brilliant presentation, even though I’ve long understood the basic concepts.

Peretti was one of the major forces behind HuffPo’s business model, which executes all of this combined with constant data analysis.  The business up front, party in back concept is especially apt, in that they’ve managed to convince people that they’re a serious political news site when they’re basically a gossip and smut rag with some window dressing.

And, no, I’m not being judgmental here.  I saw OTB going down the same road about five years ago, decided that it wasn’t what I wanted to turn the blog into even though it was the obvious business model, and spun off the Gone Hollywood site.  But even eschewing the salacious stuff, I keep an eye on topics that are going viral in the blogosphere and social media aggregators and comment on quite a bit of it.

Even within the context of political blogging, it’s much, much easier to get mega traffic if you’re a zealot or targeting the zealots.   All but a handful of the top sites are fueled by venom, outrage, and hyperbole.   Which makes sense:  People trying to divert themselves from the boredom of work want to vent their frustrations, not engage in Socratic dialogue.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Good thing I don’t care to attract major traffic.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    I’m glad I recently found OTB. It’s one of the VERY few places where people who prefer a reasoned and rational approach can share ideas, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. I very much appreciate the nuanced and thoughful approach you and your people take, James.