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Blufr is the original trivia game I invented in 2006 that went insanely viral, was named the #1 "web 2.0 app" for a while and ultimately led to MTV head-hunting me. This one was super fun, grew in so many ways and remains a career highlight.
One of my favorite things we did once Blufr started getting attention and more resources, was to fund and spin-off an absolutely absurdist webseries staring comedian Billy Merritt and musician Michelle Citrin. We passed 100k views in our short run, which was a ton for 2006 (the year Google acquired YouTube.) I'll upload below 3 episodes.
Several years ago I wrote the definitive history of Blufr, which I'll now invite you to read :-)
The trivia game that changed my life
In mid-2006, I was living in Israel and working at Answers.com. The site boasted the largest collection of reference materials, available for free to everyone, and my job was making the content as accessible as possible.
A key challenge for the product team was that no one goes to a dictionary site to “hang out.” Even though it was one of the most-visited sites on the internet, the destination garnered just a few page views from each visitor. Changing that just a little could have massive impact overall.
By that time, I was already nine years into my internet career. My passion has always been to understand the ever-changing trends of the digital landscape. What makes people click? What makes content shareable? What pops and what dies? Then, the magic is translating insights and analysis to concrete ideas, strategies and tactics.
The web of 2006 was very different than the web of today. In many ways, 2006 was the height of “Web 2.0” and, indeed, Time’s Person of the Year was “You.” Digg ruled the viral web and it was illegal to launch a company or product without finding a vowel to drop from its name.
Some milestones of 2006 include: @Jack opened his Twitter account in March, Flickr upgraded from “beta” to “gamma” status in May, Facebook opened up beyond .edu users in September and Google acquired YouTube in October.
I constructed the proposal for what became Blufr through a series of reverse-engineering exercises based on my analysis of the landscape and Answers’ unique situation.
If pageviews were the issue, I’d build something with very little content on each page. To get people to click to another page, there’d need to be a piece of compelling content waiting for them. This idea should compound, such that every click lures the user into more clicks, a never-ending stream. Short content also played nicely with the emerging Twitter platform and could even act as standalone headlines for use on Digg.
Psychology would play a key part, recalling the various “personality tests” that were popular at the time. People wouldn’t just click around for their own amusement, they’d be driven to share with - and even challenge - their friends.
Ultimately, it had to be a super simple idea, one that could be built for minimal investment, because I’d be asking my boss for time away from my regular job to embark on this experiment. I was able to compile a succinct proposal, promising just a month away from my normal responsibilities and requesting just $10K for the experiment. Management was on board with my humble, frugal pitch and I set out to build Blufr. (shout-out to my MBA classmate, Marc Fischman, who built the backend almost single-handedly)
The concept was straight forward – when arriving at the site, users would be presented with a simple statement (a “bluf”) and be asked to decide it was true or false, by clicking on either “way” or “no way.” Upon clicking, they’d be ushered to a new page, revealing the answer based on content from Answers.com (with links throughout for more information) as well as a percentage indicating how many others were fooled by that bluf. Critically, beneath the answer would be a brand new bluf, enticing people to learn its veracity and continue the cycle of addictive pageview nirvana.
Blufs were the main attraction, and each one had to be written from scratch, in a masterful way, to intrigue, beguile and even amuse. Upon reading, users would need to have gut reactions along the lines of “no, that can’t possibly be right” or, “of course that’s true.” Emphasizing the percentage of people fooled played on users’ gullibility and, altogether, the content begged to be shared with friends. Not only was every bluf highly shareable, the game itself could easily be embedded on any site, just like a YouTube video.
To produce the content, I employed comedy writers I knew from my days performing improv in NYC. This allowed me to launch a trivia game with entirely fresh material, unlike the mostly recycled trivia of other sites. Some of my favorite blufs include: polar bears can’t be seen by night vision goggles, milk is not technically considered dairy, elephants can’t jump and Cinderella’s slippers were originally made of fur. (true, false, false, true) (shout-out to my army buddy, Paul Knegten, on his work as Blufr’s editor-in-chief)
I’m proud to say I launched blufr.com on time and on budget, on July 2, 2006.
Blufr took the web by storm, quickly gaining traction, earning great buzz for Answers and delivering results way beyond the modest investment made. The game garnered an average of 100 page views per visit, saw average visit lengths of 30 minutes and drove real traffic to Answers.com reference pages. Furthermore, it showed people a whole new spin on Answers.com and delivered a shot of adrenaline into the corporate culture.
Blufr was my first taste at what a “viral hit” looks like. I watched as site after site wrote about the game and embedded it. I heard story after story of radio programs and other media using Blufr content for things like call-in contests. Best of all, I was shocked when the site reached the number one spot in a directory of Web 2.0 sites. (shout out to the Answers.com head of product, Gil Reich, and the head of marketing, Jay Bailey, without whose support Blufr would have never seen the light of day)
The story of Blufr is one of my favorites because it goes far beyond just my invention of a viral hit on a tight budget and timeline. It wasn’t just a runaway success for Answers, it immensely impacted my life. Indeed, Blufr is a great story because it shows the power of the internet to spread messages, connect passions and change people’s lives.
While I was managing the heights of Blufr’s success, executives at MTV Networks were planning their own shake-up. The TV execs, specifically, sought to create a more unified strategy between greenlighting TV pilots and crafting the digital strategy for those shows (instead of relying on the existing workflow of the MTV.com digital team, which operated separately). The idea was to rapidly ideate and iterate games, apps, communities and social presences for shows in a way that really integrated between what people saw online and on-air.
While browsing a directory of popular Web 2.0 sites for inspiration, they came upon Blufr, which was enjoying its position as the number one Web 2.0 game.
The details of what happened next is a story for another day.
The highlight is that I was discovered from the other side of the world and given the opportunity to help lead a team that would operate with an entirely entrepreneurial and scrappy approach, to launch dozens of social media, user-generated-content destinations for MTV and VH1. (shout out to my partner on that adventure, my best friend, Asael Kahana)
By the time that story came to an end, Asael and I had created and led a boutique agency that directly managed a hefty budget from Viacom to invent, build and nurture a myriad of projects, including the one that became my next “viral hit” (NextOrNot), earned multi-millions for MTV and solidified my career path as a social media and digital marketing executive in the entertainment industry.