Like many members of my generation, I have an online addiction. In this case, my cyberdrug of choice comes in the form of popular news and entertainment website, Buzzfeed. One of my computer’s top-visited websites, Buzzfeed meets many of my digital needs whether I’m aiming to brush up on current events or simply searching for an engaging diversion to alleviate boredom. Upon first glance, Buzzfeed’s homepage appears as a jumble of content ranging from the serious to the absurd:
Moving beyond this frenzied appearance, the content presented by Buzzfeed offers visitors an opportunity to simultaneously experience several aspects of contemporary young adult culture. This, coupled with its ranking among the top 50 websites visited in the U.S. makes Buzzfeed, at least in my opinion, a suitable candidate for online archiving by a cultural institution. Using the “listicle” thematic structure for which Buzzfeed articles are notorious, let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why the Buzzfeed website should be digitally archived for future study:
1. It provides an inclusive snapshot of 21st century society.
Where else can you go to catch up on Olympic coverage, find out the latest news stories, and take a quiz determining which Mean Girls character best reflects your personality? A self-described “social news and entertainment company,” Buzzfeed serves as a one-stop shop for all of these and more. Simply reading through the site’s headings and sub-headings indicates that the posts offered cover a myriad of subjects, ranging from world news to food recipes. As illustrated by the “About” video above, Buzzfeed’s aim is to combine news reporting, advertising, and storytelling into one medium, where users can satisfy curiosity, increase knowledge, and digitally contribute to cultural trends through the creation of their own posts and listicles. This level of interactivity coupled with the site’s diverse content allows Buzzfeed visitors an opportunity for an “inside look” into 21st century American culture. Through browsing the various posts, whether current or housed in the site’s in-house archive, readers can track social changes over time from personalities and events regarded as culturally significant to popular food types or clothing styles. This insight into both nationally (or globally) significant content and that which pertains more to the nuances of the everyday provides a relatively inclusive representation of 21st century life in the United States, making Buzzfeed a site worthy of digital preservation.
2. It’s not going to be popular forever.
Just as former social networking supersite Myspace became slowly eclipsed by the rise of Facebook (which in turn is beginning its slow descent as users flock to other forms of social media, such as Twitter and Instagram), Buzzfeed also faces similar challenges. Competitors, such as rival site EliteDaily (whose homepage is pictured above), use page models and article structures resembling those made popular by Buzzfeed to promote their own content. While Buzzfeed remains the top site of its kind for the time being, it is inevitable that the fast-paced nature of the web and continued technological advances will eventually produce a new social medium that will ultimately take its place. With this in mind, it is important that Buzzfeed and its already-archived content be preserved on a larger scale by an institution or organization before this decline occurs.
3. It serves as an example of the ongoing issue of fair use and other questions of “netiquette.”
No website is perfect, and in this new digital era the question of ownership and fair use is murkier than ever. Buzzfeed, like other sites, has run into its own issues of fair use over the years as evidenced by this Gawker article chronicling controversies surrounding the page’s earlier days. While new management and a re-evaluation of site goals has led to better fair-use practice among Buzzfeed writers and contributors, the accusations regarding content plagiarism from other community-based sites such as Reddit, provide a learning opportunity in terms of the extent of intellectual ownership and the parameters of authority over online content.
Of course, archiving a site operating on real-time (as Buzzfeed does) comes with its challenges. The top stories featured on the Buzzfeed’s homepage change every few minutes, based on post popularity and visitor traffic. This means that the page layout and posts themselves would have to be archived as the appearance changes in order to maintain an accurate representation of the site. As such, an institution or organization (like the Internet Archive, for example) with the capacity to preserve whole websites and pages in addition to video, audio, image, and text content would most likely be ideal for taking on the Buzzfeed preservation project.
What do you think? Should Buzzfeed be archived? What other sites do you think deserve preservation?