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Eli Pariser and Company Launch a Startup to Make "Important Content" Go Viral

BY Nick Judd | Monday, March 26 2012

Eli Pariser and company are launching "Upworthy," a startup focused on making big ideas go viral. Original photo: J.D. Lasica

You may have already seen on Twitter or Facebook that MoveOn.org and The Onion alumnus Peter Koechley and MoveOn.Org board president Eli Pariser, with the support of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and a cast of characters familiar to the online left and future-of-news crowds, have launched a shiny new Internet thing.

Called Upworthy and announced today, the startup crew bills their project as a hit machine for news worth knowing, a nonpartisan meme-maker that might do for shareable bits of "important content" what I Can Haz Cheezburger did for LOLcats.

"Let's be honest: The Internet's been overrun with inanity, and all of us are eating it up," Koechley wrote in the post announcing Upworthy's existence. "... We can't change all that. But we believe the things that matter in the world don't have to be boring and guilt-inducing. And the addictive stuff we love doesn't have to be completely substanceless."

In December, Pariser was involved in a search for talent for a startup intended to "spread important, compelling ideas to hundreds of millions of people online and make being a progressive fun again."

The site is built on the idea that "important" ideas can spread across the social web, a place that Pariser explored conceptually in a 2010 Personal Democracy Forum talk and later in his book, "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You," published in 2011. The premise of "filter bubble" is that as social sites get better at guessing who you are and what you're interested in, they'll be more likely to present content that does not challenge your way of thinking or comes from friends who think like you do.

It also builds on experiments from MoveOn.org like their MoveOn Media initiative, where volunteers filter, flag and promote content to be featured by the organization. That operation has accrued viral mojo for several videos which wound up attracting millions of views.

In another blog post announcing the launch, Pariser wrote:

Here’s the challenge: as more and more people discover news and content through Facebook-like personalized feeds, the stuff that really matters falls out of the picture. In the Darwinian environment of the hyper-relevant news feed, content about issues like homelessness or climate change can’t compete with goofy viral videos, celebrity news, and kittens. The public sphere falls out of view. And that matters, because while we can lose sight of our common problems, they don’t lose sight of us.