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BuzzFeed app offers custom news feed: readers can get more corgis, less Congress

Jeff John Roberts

As BuzzFeed moves up the media firmament as a source of serious news, the site has also stuck to its roots as a go-to site for cat pictures and celebrity pablum. The result, for the reader, is an odd mix of high- and lowbrow: a profile on the journalist at the center of the NSA scandal next to “27 of the worst cats you went to high school with.”

But now, for those who want less (or more) banality, BuzzFeed is offering an updated version of its iOS app that allows readers to customize the news they get. It works like this:

The reader chooses the settings bar in the “My Feed” part of the app, and adds the fare he or she likes:

And then chooses what type of stories he or she would prefer not to see (in my case, fewer Kardashians):

The result is a personalized news feed that surfaces the BuzzFeed topic a reader wants to see, and plays down the ones they don’t.

“People come to us for the mix, but some topics of content are polarizing,” BuzzFeed founder, Johan Peretti, said in a recent phone interview. “There’s content that people love or hate — politics or celebrities or animals…some people love to have cute animals mixed in with serious news, while others feel the opposite.”

The move, which comes at a time when mobile news consumption continues to soar, may be a shrewd one from a business perspective. BuzzFeed has long touted a “viral” model of news distribution, where readers find stories not through a site’s homepage but through social channels like Facebook and Twitter. BuzzFeed’s app’s ability to cluster stories into a personalized newsfeed may increase the potential for “viral lift.”

Whatever content mix readers choose, they will continue to be exposed to BuzzFeed’s “native ads,” which BuzzFeed claims are more effective than traditional display ads because they mimic the surrounding content (and make users more likely to click and share them). Here’s an example:

As most news readers, even on mobile, consume content through websites, not apps, the significance of BuzzFeed’s customization tool shouldn’t be overstated. But, for publishers worried about the weak market for mobile ads, the combination of personalized content and native ads appears promising.

In our interview, Peretti claimed that BuzzFeed now reaches 60 million people a month and that the company, which recently signed a partnership with CNN, will soon ramp up its video ad offerings. He added that BuzzFeed, which has flirted with profitability over the last year, has been in the black for several months.

The app is available through iTunes and will come to Android in coming months.

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