BuzzFeed releases app so you can judge cute animals

BuzzFeed wants to become a place for serious journalist, while also keeping its fun side

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
February 26, 2015
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I have to admit, BuzzFeed flummoxes me a bit. The site always acts like it wants to be taken seriously as a hub for real journalism; a place where news will be broken and stories will be fully investigated. It's even working on its own news app. It now has an editorial staff with more than 200 people, which cover such topics as politics, sports, business, entertainment and travel.

That's all well and good, but then BuzzFeed goes ahead and does something far from serious, something that makes it harder to take seriously as a source of real news.

The company released a new app on Wednesday, for rating cute animals. It's called Cute or Not, and it works pretty much like a Tinder for your pet: users swipe right when an animal is cute, and swipe left when they are not (how many times are you really going to be swiping left, unless you're the world's most cold hearted person?)

People can upload pictures of their own pets (naturally), which can then be shared with friends. Others can also see which pets have been voted cute the most. 

Look, I have a sense of humor. And I like cute animals as much as the next person (I'm already thinking of submitting my girlfriend's sister’s dog, Sammy. You can see his picture on a story I put up earlier today, which would have been perfect for this story!) But, at the same time, my main reaction to this is: really, BuzzFeed? This is what you are spending your time on?

I'm obviously not alone in  thinking that, and even BuzzFeed knew that many would be asking the same question. So Chris Johansen, Vice President of Product at BuzzFeed, wrote a whole blog post about it.

The title of the piece: What The Hell Are We Doing With Apps?

In it, he wrote about "experimentation" being "one of the building blocks of BuzzFeed’s DNA."

"We are constantly learning and iterating off our experiments, and any experiment is successful if we can gather data and learn from it. We see the App Store as a platform, and it makes sense for us to be experimenting there the same way we experiment on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat etc," he said,

Cute or Not was just a fun idea that the company though would make people happy. And no doubt it will. But, more importantly, how does it fit into BuzzFeed's long-term goals?

"To some people, BuzzFeed is about reading fun lists, taking quizzes and sharing and discussing them amongst their friends. To others, we are a source for vital news and groundbreaking journalism, or for ways to get more out of your life. And to some, we are a source of hilarious videos they love to binge watch," Johansen wrote. 

It became clear to BuzzFeed that trying to put the entire experience into a single app would not work, so it  decided that releasing a series of stand-alone apps would give users a better experience.

"We don’t see it as 'unbundling' as much as focusing. Instead of having one baseline for all types of stories and media we need to build apps that can excel at providing the best experience for each."

To that end, BuzzFeed recently acquired two app companies: Hyper IQ in December, and GoPop late last week.

So expect many more apps to come out from BuzzFeed from now on; hopefully they will be able to mix in some of the serious journalism it wants to do, along with the silly apps like Cute or Not.

New York City-based BuzzFeed was founded in 2008 by Jonah Peretti, the co-founder of the Huffington Post. The site now reaches more than 150 million people every month.

It has raised over $96 million in funding, most recently a $50 million round this past August. Investors in the company include NEA, Lerer Ventures, Hearst Media, Softbank and RRE Ventures. 

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