Jonah Peretti: Sex Is A Lot More Popular Than Jesus On Google

Today at Disrupt NY 2013, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti took the stage to talk to the audience about how content works on the Internet: What sells, what gets shared and why. Peretti, a journalist, programmer, marketer and founding member of The Huffington Post (now owned by TechCrunch parent company AOL), has long been a student of viral media. Not surprisingly, Peretti’s latest brainchild, Buzzfeed, has turned into publication of record when it comes to Web-born viral content.

Of course, while the publication came to fame thanks to its assiduous chronicling of adorable cats doing people things, under Peretti’s direction, over time it’s transformed into a legitimate news organization, producing real, thoughtful journalism. In his talk today, Peretti started by intoning something we all know well: “People are crazy.”

Things work a little differently on the Internet, “literally” means not what it should mean, but “figuratively,” we do things and act in ways that don’t mesh with how we’d act in the real world. It’s a little like being in a car, really. Peretti says that “we like to of ourselves as having unified, rational selves” — that we have consistent interests, that our behavior can always be explained in normal, neat little ways.

Of course, we’re not really like that, Peretti argues. When we’re out with our college friends, we’re likely to act differently than we would when we’re with our colleagues, or our parents. The same is true for people’s behavior on Google and Facebook. Again, people think they act the same, but really there’s a difference.

When you look at google searches, he saysm perhaps unsurprisingly, “sex is more popular than Jesus on google.” Compare the search terms “diet pills” and “Arab spring,” diet pills win. Obviously, this isn’t what Larry and Sergey had in mind when they started Google.

We use Google to search for secret things, to investigate what other people are saying about our deepest darkest secrets, interests and curiosities. Google Image search is filled with pictures of pets doing hilarious things, while Google search serves up results on the great ocean of porn out there on the Web.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a projection of our social relationships and behavior. Together, they generally represent and are a metaphor for the two ways we use the Internet. On Facebook, the same person who is looking at stories involving nude pics, is also looking at and sharing inspiring stories about victims overcoming disabilities and so on, along with politically-motivated stories.

“On the Web, the emotional quotient is more important than IQ,” Peretti told the audience, these are things that people need to understand when making things for the Web.

Content is about identity, he continued, and capturing that conflicted identity, as well as the emotional nature of the moment.

I wrote something about being excessively tall, tall people loved it. If you’ve been raised by immigrant parents, that’s something that type of person can relate to, want to share and talk about. That’s what you need to be thinking about when creating media, creating content for the Internet.

Peretti’s talk was all over the place, much like Buzzfeed, but also eminently quotable and share-able. For those looking to make the next viral video, make enduring, sharable content, Peretti told the audience not to ignore our conflicted, fractured, sex-obsessed emotional selves.

“If you’re not crazy on the Web, then something’s wrong … Make something for our OCD, narcissistic and ADHD selves.”

Boom slam.