Upworthy is a website for viral content started in March 2012 by Eli Pariser, the former executive director of MoveOn, and Peter Koechley, the former managing editor of The Onion. One of Facebook's co-founders, Chris Hughes, was an early investor.
Upworthy's stated mission is "to change what the world pays attention to." It uses virality to promote storeys with a progressive bent on political and social issues.
In June 2013, an article in Fast Company called Upworthy "the fastest growing media site of all time".
In August 2013 Upworthy became the first "non-traditional" site to feature in NewsWhip's Top Ten , in fifth place. By November 2013 they were the third most social publisher on Facebook, notwithstanding their low article count.
Upworthy popularised a distinctive style of two-phrase headlines, which has spread to a large number of additional websites. Examples of such Upworthy style headlines are:
- "We Don't Hear Enough From Native American Voices. Here's An Inspiring Message From One."
- "Someone Gave Some Kids Some Scissors. Here's What Happened Next."
It has been criticised for its use of overly sensationalized, emotionally manipulative, "clickbait" style, headlines as well as having a liberal bias, and simplifying issues that are controversial by nature.
It was reported on 17 June 2015 that the business is to pivot by focusing on producing original content, rather than aggregating third-party content. This pivot is resulting in six of its staff being laid off as well as new staff being hired, under the site's new Editorial Director, Amy O'Leary, who joined Upworthy from The New York Times in February, 2015.
Upworthy has been through two rounds of funding. In October 2012 it raised $4 million from New Enterprise Associates and additional angel investors, including BuzzFeed co-founder John Johnson, Facebook co-founder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes, and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. In September 2013 it raised $8 million from investors Catamount Ventures, Spark Capital, Knight Foundation and Klee Irwin.
Upworthy writers and video staff produce daily stories, which are distributed on social media. Topics include "Being a Better Human," "Citizenship & Democracy," "Culture," "Identities," and "Science & Technology."
In November 2013, Upworthy hit a high of over 80 million unique visitors for the month. Notwithstanding in early 2014 it had fallen to roughly 20 million unique visitors. As of December 2014, Upworthy's mission statement says it engages a total of about 50 million people each month.
As of October 2016, Upworthy’s YouTube channel has acquired 157,370 subscribers and over 10 million views.
Upworthy has been labelled a "clickbait shop"; however, for two years Upworthy didn't monetize clicks through display advertising. The company began making money in April 2014 with the announcement of Upworthy Collaborations.
Upworthy Collaborations is a name given to Upworthy's advertising partnerships with corporations. It includes native ads, and articles that its advertising partners underwrite. It is selective with the organisations it collaborates with and states that "We draw a line on greenwashing". Upworthy states that it wishes to work with corporations who have a common mission and similar values. Peter Koechley said on the topic: "We won’t take an ad from Exxon claiming to be good for the environment, but Skype claiming they help people communicate—that seems about right". It has attracted prominent brands such as Unilever, Skype, CoverGirl, and charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Upworthy has held events to advertise itself as well as getting new ideas from the public about the new media and Internet.