Buzzfeed has launched Fre.sh, a microsite which shows "the fastest rising stories from the best sites on web". It's a neat little site, and could well make it on the home pages of a lot of people: 50 stories are listed, with just the headline and a little icon showing the source. The rank is determined by how fast the story is spreading, so the link at the top is the fastest rising story; and the size of the text reflects how much traffic it's getting.
So at a glance you can tell that Salon's story about being "a liberal mole at Fox News" is the fastest rising story, although the Mail's write-up of the Chinese baby being flushed away is getting significantly more traffic:
But that's not the most interesting thing about the site. Because rather than looking at what it has, look at what it doesn't have: a single advert. Instead, as best I can tell, the business case for Fre.sh is contained in a little line at the bottom:
Hey publishers! To add your site to Fre.sh, join the BuzzFeed Network.
That may change over time; the project is clearly marked as being from Buzzfeed Labs, so it's a release-fast-and-iterate job. But the Buzzfeed Network is the site's most under-discussed weapon, and as it stands, Fre.sh is a massive carrot being waved under the noses of any publisher which has yet to sign up.
The deal Buzzfeed offers publishers is that if they sign up as a partner, Buzzfeed will link to their stories from the front page (under "hot on the web" – though curiously, the "hot" stories aren't the same as the "fresh" ones) and in a few of the main content slots. What Buzzfeed gets in return is tracking information from the partners. It's a win-win! The partners get loads of lovely traffic, and Buzzfeed gets the thing that any web-native company craves more than anything else – data.
So much data, in fact, that they can now tell their partners which of their stories are rising fastest – something that, I'd imagine, at least some of the partners can't do themselves. Buzzfeed now knows how many of its readers also click around the Daily Mail, and how many of them get their "real" news from the Guardian.
All that data pays back back to the site's native advertising model. That's the part of Buzzfeed which all the ink has been spilled over: the sponsored posts engineered for "viral lift" and ideally indistinguishable from the site's normal content
Because sure, advertisers will pay to speak to what they think of as Buzzfeed's audience; but they'll pay a lot more when they realise that they're speaking to a significant chunk of the NYT's readers, without even having to pay the NYT's rates. And the more partners Buzzfeed has, the more they can eat other organisations' lunches without them even knowing.