Wall Street traders sweating Facebook’s flaccid opening should have stopped by I Want Media’s fifth annual Future of Media panel Friday afternoon. In a television studio above Cooper Square, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti and other media futurists paid lofty and often metaphorical tribute to the social media site’s publishing power.
Mr. Peretti, also a co-founder of The Huffington Post, praised Mark Zuckerberg for connecting people, making practice out of Stanley Milgram’s six degrees of separation theory.
“Facebook is the place where everyone is going to have to be no matter what,” agreed Michael Wolf, Yahoo’s newest board member. “So it’s almost like a utility.”
Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa likened it to the “plumbing” or the “on-ramp” of the Internet.
“So even though Facebook is regarded as a walled garden it still has its fingers in different pies?” asked moderator and I Want Media founder Patrick Phillips.
Yes, Mr. De Rosa said, Facebook has “tentacles.”
Jezebel editor Jessica Coen said she has started making assignments based not on what people will be searching for, but what is most likely to get passed around on Facebook.
“There’s something very democratic about it,” she said. It’s now Jezebel’s top traffic driver.
According to Mr. Peretti, the shift from search to social had raised the bar for editorial quality. He recalled a week when searches for “Rihanna nude cell phone pics” drove “huge” traffic to The Huffington Post.
“Nobody posts their on Facebook or Twitter feed, ‘Hey, I heard there’s leaked pictures of Rihanna nude online. I have some time this weekend. Anyone know where I can find those?’” he said.
“Instead, you’ll post on your Facebook or Twitter, ‘Join me in helping the people in Japan after the tsunami.’ Or a really smart article from the Harvard Business Review. Or you’ll post a funny thing, because laughter is social.”
Even BuzzFeed’s famous cute animal pics are part of the social fabric, he said.
“Having empathy for living things is part of what makes us human.”
“But is the most sharable content the best content?” asked Mr. Phillips, citing BuzzFeed’s latest, “Does Your Cat Have A Drug Problem?”
In response, Mr. Peretti offered a parable from offline life.
“You’re at a Parisian café, and you’re reading your Sartre book and you’re reading Le Monde and you’re thinking of the big issues of the world and you see there’s a dog under the table next to you and you pet the dog. You don’t suddenly become stupid when you pet the dog.”