It all began in 2001, with a Nike promotion and a chain of emails. Jonah Peretti was a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab when the shoe company launched its Nike iD program: Personalized sneakers emblazoned with words that consumers could choose themselves. But among the “inappropriate slang” not allowed by the company, Peretti discovered, was the word “sweatshop.” Peretti took a polite email correspondence he had with a Nike employee to the editors of Harpers. They refused.
So Jonah sent the emails to ten of his friends. This wasn’t just any old email forward. With their combination of social commentary, moral conscience and sheer hilarity, the
Nike Sweatshop Emails was the first link to spread via “six degrees,” pass the internet tipping point, and go truly viral.
The sensation turned Peretti into an internet celebrity, landing him on national television and on class syllabi, earning him plaudits from the New York Times and Vogue, and consulting gigs with big companies. But his base remained the ragtag world of the internet. Other fun experiments followed —
BlackPeopleLoveUs.com, the New York City Rejection Line, FundRace.org — and in 2003, Peretti co-founded the Huffington Post. The internet would never be quite the same.
And then there's BuzzFeed. Peretti had been fascinated with
"contagious" media since MIT, and continued to study it as director of the R&D lab at Eyebeam, the art and technology center. In 2006, he left Eyebeam and with an assist from his friend, the internet video star Ze Frank, turned this ideas into practice. Playing master referee in the internet’s giant popularity contest, the site has become not just a vehicle for finding promising Internet content and turning it into viral sensations—and a tool for understanding how that process works.
The site’s helped make Peretti into not just a spreader of memes but an expert on the engine that powers them, what he calls “The Bored at Work Network,” a paradigm he began to seriously explore during his years at Eyebeam
. This network has surpassed that of most network television shows. In a way, it’s a journey that’s landed him right back where he started with the Nike emails: A constant lesson in how things go viral and how big corporations like Nike (now the sponsors of websites like Buzzfeed) . virtual sweatshops: The internet media machine mostly relies not on subscriptions but on millions of eyeballs and clicks to distribute the stuff. It's a tough fight for all that attention; everywhere you go, it's hey, you gotta check this out.
Hey, uh. Thanks for checking this out. Could you share it? Pretty please?