Peter Kafka

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BuzzFeed Hires Web Video Pioneer Ze Frank

Here’s a good chocolate/peanut butter combination: Buzzfeed, the click-factory that has figured out Facebook and Twitter, plus Ze Frank, the guy who figured out Web video back in its infancy.

Together they’re going to try to figure out modern-day YouTube.

Buzzfeed has bought Ze Frank’s games/video start-up, which means it has “acqhired” Frank and two of his three employees. Frank’s job is to help Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti break into Google’s video giant.

“Facebook and Twitter have been huge for the growth of BuzzFeed so far and YouTube has been the missing piece,” Peretti says. “Ze will lead the YouTube charge for us.”

Frank is building and staffing a BuzzFeed studio in Los Angeles, but he’s already been generating some video for Peretti and company, by creating some clips based on BuzzFeed posts.

Here’s his breakout hit to date, which has generated more than 4 million views and is more popular than its source material.

But Frank says the stuff he’ll be doing as a full-time BuzzFeed employee won’t be limited to recreating the site’s posts. “That’s just one approach,” he says. His guiding principles: “The thing that has always struck me is that there has always been a bit of a hole at YouTube when it comes to authenticity, human emotion, fun and play.”

Frank has been monkeying around on the Web since 2001, but made his name with a video series he launched in 2006. Frank didn’t actually use YouTube to host the daily show, but the style and content — Frank, close-up, riffing straight into a camera, with some very fast cuts and a confessional style — is now a YouTube template.

Frank started a new show this year, backed by a Kickstarter campaign, and that’s going to continue.

In 2010, Frank started a games company that eventually raised $700,000 from backers like Andreessen Horowitz and Lerer Ventures, which is also backing BuzzFeed. He’s one of two acquisitions the company has made this week — it also picked up Facebook ad start-up Kingfish Labs, another Lerer Ventures project.

Here’s a TED talk Frank gave in 2010. Well worth 20 minutes if you have it.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald