Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or at least the best way to drive up your pageviews.
It was only a matter of time before other websites began trying to duplicate the mind-boggling success of Upworthy, the Internet’s leading source of curiosity-driven, inspirational clickbait. First it was ViralNova, which combines BuzzFeed’s photo-driven listicles and Upworthy’s hyperbolic fervor. Sample headline: “These 27 People Tried To Fight Off Sleeping. But Sleep (Hilariously) Won. LOL.” The Washington Post’s experiment with Upworthy content, KnowMore, took only three weeks to become the site’s most-visited blog.
GodVine, a Christian video sharing site launched in 2010, has found success this year by adopting the same viral model. Though a little less slick in its visual design, Godvine packages a stream of viral content using the same tried-and-true “share me!” tactics as Upworthy—informal, conversational headlines designed to pique readers’ interest just enough to make not clicking an impossibility. Godvine headlines include titles like “This Man Left Behind a Note at A Restaurant. It'll Make You Cry!” and “You Need to Hear What a Little Girl Says About Her Brother With Down Syndrome.” There is some overlap in the actual content being posted, but it’s clear Godvine is trying to cut into a more pious segment of Upworthy’s audience.
Here’s a sample:
Upworthy is a media company founded last year by two former employees of Moveon.org and the Onion. In its 20 months of existence, it’s seen a meteoric rise in popularity, presently boasting an audience of 50 million unique monthly visitors, according to the Atlantic.
How has Upworthy achieved this kind of success in an oversaturated Internet media marketplace? The way any site does, by finding a way to cut through the noise. And Upworthy has boiled its technique down to a science.
The site mainly repackages inspirational and progressive videos and stories from other sources. It does so by giving articles headlines that appeal to the reader's curiosity. Some of Upworthy’s most popular titles include “9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact” and “See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds.” The headlines give you just enough to get you interested, but leaves enough unsaid to all but force you to see what all the unbridled enthusiasm is about.
It works. It works obscenely well. These headlines are intensely sharable on Facebook and other social media platforms, which drive most of the site’s traffic. Curiosity-geared headlines are hard to resist—they’re much more effective than straight news at bringing in visitors. Why click if you already know the story?
Given this success, it’s not so surprising that the makers of Godvine would use similar tactics to push content aimed at a Christian audience. Websites like ChristianMingle and JDate have proven there’s plenty of success to be had in marketing a previously secular Web service, like eHarmony, to specific religious communities.
“The purpose of GodVine.com is to bring a positive light to the Internet and give we Christians a place to enjoy family-friendly inspirational videos, pray for each other, get Christian answers and more,” reads the site’s mission statement. I reached out to the creators to learn more, but they’re tough to get hold of. The site lists only an email and fax number.
The site is not affiliated with a specific church or doctrine, but gone are the more left-leaning, progressive politics that are an Upworthy staple. You won't find uplifting stories about gay or lesbian couples or takedowns of Tea Party conservatives on GodVine. In fact, a search of the term “gay marriage” yields no results at all. Among the most popularly shared GodVine items are stories about soldiers returning home, children overcoming physical or developmental disabilities, and inspirational musical performances.
And the more secular content, the kind you might actually find on Upworthy, is repackaged with faith-affirming captions and summaries. A video about a runner winning a race after tripping and falling is presented as evidence of “how we truly can do all things through Christ.”
These tactics seem to have worked for Godvine, which has grown rapidly during 2013, and now reaches 2.5 million unique visitors per month, according to Quantcast.
The Upworthy style is the modern-day Internet chain letter, writes John Herrman at BuzzFeed, “both jarringly new and eerily familiar.” These letters, personal and sensational and completely unverifiable, stemmed from a distrust in traditional news media, spreading over email in the pre-Facebook age.
In 2013, Facebook is now the biggest social news source in America—and a majority of the people who get their news from social media are really talking about one site: Facebook. But just like in a chain letter, what you’re getting isn’t really news. It’s more of a Facebook-optimized experience that caters directly to you. All it asks is that you share it.
GodVine, plus a slew of Upworthy imitators waiting to launch, is likely here to stay. Pass it on.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Godvine as a new website. In fact, it launched in 2010 and adopted the Upworthy headline model in 2013. We regret the error.