2014 columns, Pop Culture

BuzzFeed quizzes understand me

by Julia Tulloh , March 19, 2014Leave a comment



If you use social media regularly – Facebook, in particular – you’ll have completed a BuzzFeed quiz during the past month. Don’t deny it. Even if you didn’t share your results online, deep down you’re still feeling smug because the ‘What Should You Actually Eat For Lunch?’ quiz confirmed that eating ice cream was, in fact, an appropriate meal for your personality type. Or because you’re most similar to 1980s Batman (as opposed to all the other Batmans).

If you actually don’t know what I’m talking about, you should try some quizzes yourself. Titles range from the reasonably mundane (‘Which Country Do You Actually Belong In?’) to the more obscure (‘Which Secondary Harry Potter Character Are You?’) to the plain silly (‘What Arbitrary Thing Are You?’ or my favourite, ‘Hodor!’). BuzzFeed isn’t the only place you can take a quiz – in fact, the recent quizzing trend seemed to start over at Zimbio, after its ‘Which Star Wars Character Are You?’ went viral.

I complete lots of these quizzes even though I know they’re a complete waste of time. Does it matter which of Harry Styles’ exes I am? No. (Maybe.) And yet, I still feel compelled to find out, every time a friend shares their results. Why? I mean, obviously procrastination is the overarching factor. But there’s something else as well.

Partly, the quizzes appeal to me because they’re funny. One of the questions in ‘Which Famous Person Should You Get Drunk With?’ is ‘Pick A Cat in a Hat’. You have to choose one of nine real kitties, each wearing actual hats. Then you might have to pick a hashtag – #nomnomnom or #longhairdontcare? Choose carefully – you don’t want to end up with Katy Perry when you could party with Jennifer Lawrence!

The quizzes also put us in a box. And if that box resonates with us, we feel understood. When I discovered I should get drunk with Beyoncé, a small part of me actually felt validated in a non-ironic way. The internet knew me!

There is talk that BuzzFeed and Zimbio are developing profiles on us, based on quiz answers and the information they can access through Facebook when quiz results are shared on newsfeeds. Jordan Shapiro at Forbes suggests that users tend to ‘brush off’ the seriousness of the data gleaned through the quizzes because they appear so silly; a reporter from Ad Age believes the quiz data are a goldmine for BuzzFeed’s future marketing strategies. It’s outlined in BuzzFeed’s privacy policy – basically, the site can access likes, friend lists and other preferences from whichever social media we share content through.

I was unsurprised, then, to discover that BuzzFeed employ data scientists at their NYC headquarters to ‘Learn about our data collection and storage methodologies and technologies in depth’ and ‘Refine our viral detection algorithms’. While I can’t believe all data obtained through the quizzes would be useful (what can the cat-in-a-hat question tell anyone about anything, even when combined with my Facebook preferences?), the information is nevertheless being used to hone user profiles. I imagine examining which types of users complete which quizzes would be particularly useful for the way BuzzFeed attracts advertisers.

Catherine Bartosevich, BuzzFeed’s press director, has said that BuzzFeed only collects very basic data such as ‘engagements, shares, time on site, unique visitors, etc’, but also that, ‘You can expect lots of sponsored quizzes in your Facebook and Twitter feeds soon.’ The flipside for BuzzFeed is that we’ll probably get sick of the quizzes shortly. But does that matter? I’m sure the site will collect my info anyway. And while that’s frustrating, I’ll still keep using the site – who wouldn’t, for more cat-in-a-hat pictures?

Julia Tulloh is working on a PhD about Cormac McCarthy’s fiction. She tweets at @jtul and blogs at juliatulloh.com.

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