I arrived at Upworthy in February
2015 and since then, a lot of
people have been asking what
we’re up to. We’ve made a lot of
changes already and I’m proud of
how far we’ve come together as a
team in just a short time.
I wrote this to share our vision for
Upworthy’s next phase of growth
with the wider world. We’re
pretty excited about what’s
ahead and are looking forward to
talking about it with our peers,
our team, and most of all, our
community of readers who value
the place Upworthy has in their
— Amy O’Leary
UPWORTHY SPRUNG TO LIFE BY
BRINGING MASSIVE AMOUNTS
OF ATTENTION TO STORIES
THAT REALLY MATTER.
18 million people saw Zach Wahls’
passionate defense of his mothers’
relationship (“Two lesbians raised a
baby and this is what they got”) and
helped move the debate on marriage
equality forward. That success was
the genesis for Upworthy and all that
was to follow.
As a company, Upworthy kept
discovering and sharing stories that
would make a real difference. During
the “ice bucket challenge” craze, 17
million people saw Anthony Carbajal’s
honest and heartbreaking plea for
understanding the disease both he and
his mother will die from.
And it worked. Upworthy was crazy successful, the fastest growing media
company of all time. Upworthy was so successful, in fact, you probably
couldn’t escape it in your Facebook feed at one time (cue the haters…).
But that work brought stories on equality, justice, and diversity to
hundreds of millions of people in just three years.
So Upworthy became incredibly good at this thing called
“curation.” (Some people were all like, “Where’s the museum? What
even is that?”) But it meant that the team had these super sharp skills
and tools for hunting down the most impactful stories on the Internet and
bringing them to huge new audiences.
A lot of people think of Upworthy
and think: “Ugh. I hate those
annoying ‘clickbait’ headlines.”
Yeah, we know. We don’t like
What started out as a kind of fun,
off-the-wall experiment to
reinvent headlines (to bring
attention to important stories)
mushroomed and multiplied and
sort of broke the Internet.
When they started to ﬂood the
Internet, nobody liked what
happened next, including us.
And we’re sorry.
“WE SORT OF UNLEASHED A MONSTER.
SORRY FOR THAT. SORRY WE KIND OF BROKE
THE INTERNET LAST YEAR. I'M EXCITED
GOING FORWARD TO SAY GOODBYE TO
— PETER KOECHLEY, UPWORTHY CO-FOUNDER AT
THE GUARDIAN’S CHANGING MEDIA SUMMIT, MARCH 2015
SO, WE APOLOGIZED.
AND WE ARE BUILDING A WHOLE NEW WORLD
OF UPWORTHY STORYTELLING
Storytelling? Wait, that’s not a hot, new
distribution model. Where are the
“newsonomics”? Where are the future-
o f - m e d i a b u z z w o r d s ? W h a t o f
I worked at a newspaper before I came
to Upworthy and I’ve been thinking
about the big changes in media for some
Newspapers, for example, evolved over
hundreds of years. And they had a format
that worked. That “inverted pyramid”
style we were all taught in school was a
19th-century invention that was ﬁtting
form in the telegraph age.
What is the way we tell stories today?
While there are all kinds of fancy
“atomization” apps and reverse-
engineered listicles ﬂooding the
landscape, nobody has really ﬁgured out
what formats for storytelling will become
dominant in the world we all actually live
You know, this world:
(What’s so crazy-exciting about being
at Upworthy right now is that we get to
work on this question — and do it in the
service of stories that actually matter.)
Nobody has really mastered the way
stories are told on a phone,
the device most of us read on today.
THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS THAT WE KNOW ABOUT
CHARACTER EMOTION SURPRISE MEANINGSTRUCTURE
Story nerds dig this stuff. We understand the toolkit to build a story that you absolutely can’t put down.
From structure to emotional payoffs to telling details to surprise, the art and craft of empathetic
storytelling has a deep roster of techniques that have yet to be smartly adapted to a digital age.
AUDIENCE MEDIUM ACTIONSFRAMING HABITS
Every day Upworthy is learning more about human actions surrounding digital stories and how stories
travel in digital space. By measuring interaction with digital stories, we are uncovering surprising
insights into what had long been an intuitive art. We are analyzing the audience, medium, framing,
actions, and habits surrounding a story. If you care about stories, looking under the hood at this stuff is a
dream come true.
THE DATA BEHIND STORIES
WE’RE ALSO LEARNING GROUNDBREAKING NEW THINGS ABOUT
IT’S A BIG SHIFT. WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF IT.
AND WE ALREADY HAVE SOME INITIAL EXPERIMENTS UNDERWAY.
Mason Wartman abandoned
a life on Wall Street to start a
pizza shop in Philadelphia,
where customers can get a
slice but also pay an extra
dollar to buy a Post-it note
and put it on the wall.
Anyone who is hungry can
use those Post-it notes and
redeem it for a meal.
The Upworthy story featured
Mason and his customers as
part of our original video
series, “Humanity FTW.” The
video’s massive success
helped Mason expand to
serve even more of his
neighbors in need.
A WIN FOR
Original video at Upworthy? We do that. While Mason’s story
had been told several places, Upworthy’s expertise in framing
the story for maximum social distribution (with care and
sensitivity for the voices in the story) led to massive views, and a
real-world impact for the people Mason serves every day.
Upworthy does longform? Yep. In this 5,000-word original deep
dive into the pleasures (and ethical problems) in fast food,
Upworthy writer Eric March used a set of strategic techniques
(humor, surprise, and structure) to engage over 2 million people
on subjects of wage fairness and justice.
Five incredibly delicious chain restaurants you should
never, ever eat at — and one you should but can’t.
Getting a story to more people than the entire population of
Canada? Yeah, Upworthy still does that, too. True to our roots
as curators, Upworthy licenses the most exceptional stories on
the Internet, as we present the best of the meaningful Internet
in super-shareable stories every day.
ACTIONSEMOTION SURPRISE FRAMING
This simple and brilliant video
showed twosomes of all kinds
dancing, hugging, and high-
ﬁving behind a screen that
revealed only their skeletons.
When the couples emerged,
they showed the beauty and
diversity of love in all its forms
— as duos of mixed age, race,
gender, and religion showed
that love is a truly universal
Can you measure a good story by the numbers?
If you’d asked me a couple of years, ago, I would have
said, “hell no.” Storytelling was an art and data would
just poison real storytellers, forcing them to create
lowest-common-denominator junk, right?
But I would have been wrong. You can learn serious
things about storytelling from the right data. If you’re
measuring the right things, your data should feel like a
(slightly-blurred for the public) glorious spreadsheet of
All that green at the bottom shows that changes we’re
making are working; it means our audience is on their
feet, clapping louder than ever before.
Actual internal Upworthy spreadsheet!
And we’re big. With 20 million monthly readers, Upworthy’s audience is larger than the
populations of Chile, New York or Florida — or ﬁve years of attendance at Yankee Stadium. That
is pretty incredible when you consider that this audience is reading about challenging topics like
wage fairness, consent, diversity and equality.
*Yankees tickets not to scale.
The media industry is an
exciting and volatile one
right now. Many of the
things that went into
being a media company
of the past are now being
swallowed by large
platform players (Hi,
Facebook! Hello, Google!
Howdy, [insert hot social
media platform here…]).
Platforms are increasingly
surfacing facts, trends, and
Platforms have largely
won the battle for
Platforms are making early
moves to be the source for
Of course, some will try
to continue to “game”
platforms and their
algorithms for near-term
v i r a l g a i n s , b u t a t
Upworthy, we know that
that’s a short-term play,
So where will Upworthy
We want to be
By living in the
time online (and
of stories), we’ve
been able to
resonates — even
on hard topics like
rights, or racism.
And so in the
vast data trove
to create new
like “House of
“Orange Is the
New Black” …
creating the kind
of stories we know
work with large
that delicious fast
This is true even
when the core
AND IS GOING TO FIGHT ON THE
SIDE OF THE STORIES THAT MATTER MOST.
And I’m proud to be leading that ﬁght.
Thanks for taking some time to learn about
Upworthy and our vision. I’m happy to keep the
conversation going. Hit me up with questions or
thoughts at @amyoleary on Twitter.