BuzzFeed hires Gilad Lotan as VP of data science

BuzzFeed has a new vice president leading its data science team.

Gilad Lotan has a long résumé in the field, having most recently served as chief data scientist at New York-based startup studio Betaworks, and before that working in data-related roles at SocialFlow, Microsoft and Endemol.

Publisher Dao Nguyen told me that this is a new role at BuzzFeed — the closest equivalent being Nguyen’s old title of vice president of growth and data, which she held until her promotion two years ago. Among other things, she said she expects Lotan to significantly expand BuzzFeed’s 11-person data science team next year.

Nguyen suggested that there are a number of BuzzFeed initiatives where data will play an important role, including international growth and commerce. And beyond that, there’s the growing importance of channels like Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube in allowing publishers like BuzzFeed to reach their audience.

“The proliferation of platforms and media on those platforms has actually made data science a much more difficult — but also more interesting — job,” Nguyen said. “Because you have a lot of data coming from a lot of third-party platforms and they all measure things differently” — creating an opportunity to think up “different ways of collecting and analyzing data.”

For example, BuzzFeed is currently working on “totally rethinking how we classify content,” in a way that’s less focused on things like format, topic and length, and more on “What’s the motivator of this content? How does it make people feel?” That kind of classification, Nguyen said, also resonates with advertisers: “It’s the kind of mindset that can be applied to a lot of different parts of the core business.”

As for why Lotan is the right person for the job, Nguyen described him as “a talented data scientist,” but also pointed to his interest in “the intersection of media and social.” (Check out his recently-published post on fake news and the broader media landscape.)

She said Lotan’s other key attribute was “a real appreciation for, understanding of and empathy towards people as opposed to just numbers.” That’s important for working with the BuzzFeed team, but also for trying to understand “why people are sharing.”