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Editor’s Note: Encyclo has not been regularly updated since August 2014, so information posted here is likely to be out of date and may be no longer accurate. It’s best used as a snapshot of the media landscape at that point in time.

Upworthy is a media marketing company that repackages “meaningful” content from around the web in order to make it more popular on social media.

In March of 2012, Eli Pariser — formerly of MoveOn.org — and Peter Koechly — formerly of The Onion — teamed up to create a concept they hoped would be both socially significant and wildly popular. By doing extensive testing of a headline’s popularity before promoting it on Facebook or Twitter, Upworthy experienced significant early growth. Around the one year mark, they had about 10 million unique monthly views. By July of 2013, they had surpassed 30 million, making it one of the fastest growing digital media companies in history. It was also among the most popular sites on Facebook. Upworthy’s traffic began to slip in early 2014.

Upworthy’s launch was funded by Chris Hughes, formerly of Facebook, current owner of The New Republic. They later announced that they had been afforded $4 million from angel funders. In 2013, it announced an $8 million round of funding and plans to double its staff — by 2014, it had a staff of 50 — and expand into new verticals. Later that year, it announced the launch of a global health and poverty section funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its primary initial source of earned revenue was by charging nonprofits for directing potential donors toward them. Long term, however, Upworthy plans to be funded entirely by ad revenue, and is pursuing sponsored content deals with a variety of brands. It launched its first native advertising campaign in 2014 and later that year reported that its native advertising was far outpacing its editorial content in traffic, attention, and shares.

Upworthy began content partnerships with ProPublica, Human Rights Watch, and Climate Nexus in 2014.

The viral popularity of the content Upworthy aggregates and repackages can be compared to BuzzFeed‘s popularity and growth, but with an added mission for social justice. Causes that Upworthy has attempted to promote include gay rights, cancer research, veteran’s issues and education. Like BuzzFeed, Upworthy has been criticized for formulaic headlines in an attempt to manufacture viral content, as well as its heavy reliance on Facebook for traffic, though it has also been praised for its viral success.

In 2014, Upworthy publicly released to code to track its internally developed audience engagement metric, attention minutes.

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Primary author: Caroline O'Donovan. Main text last updated: September 11, 2014.
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