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 host the intersection of the "awesome", the "meaningful" and the "visual." It uses virality to promote stories with a progressive bent on political and social issues.
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, despite their low article count.
Upworthy popularized a distinctive style of two-phrase headlines, which has spread to many other 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 criticized 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 other 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 produces daily stories, which it deems to be meaningful and of high quality. It aims to be “social media with a mission”. It achieves this by promoting progressive and liberal points of view through its choice of articles, without being overtly partisan. Upworthy does not necessarily strive to have a community of its own. There is no commenting on the site because Upworthy encourages its users to share its content in already existing social networks.
Their articles are rigorously tested for how effective they will be at getting clicked on. One way they do this is giving each article no fewer than 25 separate headlines, and then testing which attracts the most hits. The Upworthy team monitors posts after they go live to see how they are tracking, sometimes altering headlines for posts that aren’t taking off.
"It’s the fault of people who do care about issues for not making them interesting," Koechley says. "Politics and social issues are boring and onerous. It’s our mission to take those issues and make them so funny, compelling, or interesting that you can’t look away."
Upworthy has been criticized for writing content that slants heavily to the left of the political spectrum. Many of their articles offer a very opinionated viewpoint with no middle ground. However, their sensationalistic writing methods continue to draw millions of views per month.
In November 2013 it hit a high of almost 18 million unique visitors for the month. However, in the first half of 2014 it had fallen to roughly 10–12 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 2014 Upworthy’s YouTube channel has acquired 135,467 subscribers and 4,197.541 views.
Upworthy has been labeled a "clickbait shop"; however, for two years Upworthy did not 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.