Friday, April 12, 2024

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How to Outlast 5-Minute Internet Fads

We live in an online world made by Tasty.

Beginning in 2015, Tasty’s close-up videos featuring hands speeding through recipes for goodies like cheese-stuffed mashed potato balls or sliders four ways seemed to be all over Facebook.

Tasty, which is part of the online media company BuzzFeed, called these “hands and pans” videos, and — I am not exaggerating — they helped shape the internet as we know it.

Today, Tasty’s DNA is in the TikTok food manias for baked feta pasta or pizza panini. People posting social media videos of hands-focused tasks like household cleaning and organizing owe a debt to Tasty. So did the 2020 social media craze of knives cutting into cake that looked like a Crocs shoe or a pickle. And broadly, Tasty and other 2010s food brands helped establish smartphone videos as a dominant way that we interact through screens.

Tasty’s influence might be everywhere online, but that doesn’t mean that it’s smooth sailing for Tasty itself. The food entertainment website is now overhauling itself to lean into our 2022 habits, including for constantly churning food novelties and a zeal to create our own recipes and not just take the advice of cooking pros.

Tasty’s transformation will be a test of how to create an enduring identity in the digital age, when fads burn bright for five minutes and anything novel — including practically disembodied hands in videos — is copied by the internet’s great Xerox machine.

Allen Adamson, co-founder of the brand and marketing consulting firm Metaforce, told me that the speed of change has made it more difficult for products and companies to have a long life.

“The amount of time between you having a unique product offer and a competitive option has always been short in technology. Now it’s short in everything,” he said. “It’s the end of competitive advantage.”

A cool outfit that pops up on Instagram can be mass produced quickly in Chinese factories and sold in huge volumes online. Toys like the fidget spinner, Pop It! or squishable stuffed animals seem to be in every child’s hands one day, and then they go poof. Hit shows on Netflix might stay hot for only a week or two. And the once fresh look and feel of Tasty videos is no longer novel.

There were fads long before the internet. But there is so much of everything now that it’s hard for any single thing to hold our attention for long. When our tastes are as hard to pin down as Jell-O, companies must keep reinventing themselves while also maintaining a consistent identity. It’s not easy.

Hannah Bricker, the BuzzFeed general manager who is responsible for the Tasty brand, told me that Tasty was comfortable with the rapid-fire churn of our interests and habits. “Iteration is part of our DNA,” Bricker said. “It’s been our strategy from the beginning.”

Recently, Tasty has been overhauling its website, app and business strategy to go where our hyperactive tastes are going, with the flexibility to change course when we inevitably veer off in a different direction.

In its app, for example, Tasty is adding features to let people swap their own recipes, and it’s incorporating cook-along challenges for people to make meals virtually together. Bricker said that during the pandemic, people seemed to want more personal interactions and input rather than just to take recipes handed to them.

With so many online food videos on TikTok, Tasty is also teaming up with amateur video creators. In an arrangement with the delivery app Instacart, for example, dozens of TikTok creators will be able to post Tasty recipes within the TikTok app and then viewers have the option to buy the ingredients from Instacart’s app. Tasty has a similar arrangement with Walmart.

Bricker described Tasty’s strategy not as chasing every online food fad or the whims of popular apps but as embracing those within its core identity around having fun with food. “Food is universal and personal, and it is lasting,” she said.

The challenge for Tasty and many other brands is staying relevant and fresh at the speed of internet time, when the only thing certain is change.

More reading: Check out my colleague Katie Robertson’s article on the dozens of BuzzFeed workers who say the company illegally prevented them from trading their shares in the company at a higher price.

  • Mammoth spending to protect supplies of computer chips: Industries and governments are worried about the large number of essential computer chips made in China’s backyard. My colleagues Don Clark and Adam Satariano report that Intel planned to spend at least $19 billion for new chip factories in Germany, part of a global effort to diversify the manufacturing of the electronic brains in everything from smartphones to fighter jets.

  • Writing software code without coders: As part of a New York Times series on people using artificial intelligence to tackle everyday problems, Craig S. Smith looks at efforts to simplify writing software code to the point where anyone can do it.

  • The legal war over McDonald’s ice cream machines. Yes, really. In 2021, Wired published the ultimate back story of a tech gadget that helped restaurant owners head off breakdowns of the balky McDonald’s ice cream machines. The restaurant chain said the technology was a safety risk. The small company behind the device, Kytch, is now suing McDonald’s, accusing the chain of trying to copy the technology and smear Kytch’s reputation.

Here are some notable recent performances of Ukraine’s national anthem. It has been played and sung in concert halls and basketball arenas and on streets in Ukraine and the rest of the world to express solidarity with the country’s citizens. I recommend this performance by the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

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