What makes something go viral? The Internet according to Gawker’s Neetzan Zimmerman

From Nieman Lab:

In March, I wrote about Gawker’s new quantity-over-quality experiment. Each day, one Gawker staffer was tasked with pageview-chasing duty, a quest to post enough cat videos, Miley Cyrus pics, and local news ephemera to keep the clicks coming en masse. That staffer’s work would free up others to work on longer, more involved pieces. Pageview duty rotated, because — who could stare too long into the Internet’s bright raw id and not go blind?

Neetzan Zimmerman, apparently. Editor A.J. Daulerio hired him two months ago to focus exclusively on viral content. Zimmerman’s title at Gawker is Editor, The Internet. He is assigned to cover the Internet.

This machine-like person has generated more than 300 bylines for Gawker since he started on April 9. These are not lengthy tomes, usually; nearly every post is just a funny photo or video, with body text barely longer than a caption. The average word count of a sampling of his recent stories is about 200.

Zimmerman sits comfortably atop Gawker’s leaderboard, garnering two to five times more pageviews than his highest-performing colleagues. Zimmerman is so prolific, his posts so magnetic, that Daulerio has now relieved all 10 full-time Gawker staffers of their pageview chores.

“A taxidermied cat being that’s been turned into a helicopter — that’s clearly going to be successful, right?”

“He’s a total freak, a specialist, if you will, and I’d much rather have him (one person!) taking care of the backend of Gawker and letting the rest of us grow the site a little more traditionally,” Daulerio told me in an email. “He’s doing an outstanding job so far, now it’s a task for us to keep up and build more around him every day.”

The reaction from readers to my previous story was split between “Journalism is doomed!” and “Journalism is saved!” A lot of people interpret Daulerio’s motives as trying to figure out how to maximize pageviews. That’s true, but I think the essential question is, more precisely: Can Chinese goats subsidize substance? Can farting babies pay the bills, so journalists can focus on real work?

Consider the reach of Zimmerman’s recent work (approximate pageviews parenthetical):

This Pizza Has a Crust Made Out of Cheeseburgers (41,000)
Husband Leaves Wife Because Her 550 Cats Kept Stealing His Food (32,000)
Crappy Teacher Tells Kindergartner Who Pooped Her Pants To Sit On It (32,000)
How Did a Scarf-Wearing Pig End Up on a Highway Outside Pittsburgh? (30,000)
Dead And Buried Hamster Emerges From Grave Alive And Well And Hungry For Brains (27,000)
A Friendly Reminder: Don’t Put Your Explosive Portable Meth Lab Down Your Pants (13,000)
Zimmerman, 30, was previously the one-man operation called The Daily What, a Tumblr site he created in 2008 while bored at work. He’s the guy who elevated Double Dream Hands to meme status and Rebecca Black to global fame. (It is so documented in Know Your Meme, the paper of record for the Internet.)

The Daily What was scooped up by Ben Huh’s Cheezburger Network in 2010. In April of this year, Zimmerman parted ways with Cheezburger to get a little break from the relentless schedule and maybe pursue some more serious work. He was pumping out about 35 posts a day at The Daily What and never took a weekend off. At Gawker, he tells me, he averages 13-14 posts a day. “The least I’ve ever done was 9, and that was on an excruciatingly slow day,” he said. Weekends are mostly free now.

Continue reading the rest of the story on Nieman Lab