January 9, 2015

In early November, BuzzFeed’s product team got a message from founding CEO Jonah Peretti. He had a request: Could the team add emojis — those ubiquitous little icons used to convey emotions — to the company’s content management system?

If the product team accomplished the task, it would mean staffers could use their computers’ built-in emoji keyboards to insert the cute symbols, offering a shortcut through the tedium of copying and pasting every time they wanted to use a smiley-face.

There was one problem. Tackling the project would require the team to have access to a full set of open-source icons, and the most common ones were proprietary — owned by companies like Apple, Android and Google. Peretti suggested the team use Twitter’s emoji set, and the next day Twitter announced it was open-sourcing its emojis.

“I suspect he’s a witch,” BuzzFeed editorial product lead Chris Tindal told Poynter, laughing. “It was like six hours later that Twitter posted on their blog saying, ‘we’re open sourcing emojis everywhere.'”

The team moved quickly, Tindal said. Within a month of Twitter’s announcement, they’d added emoji support to the CMS. To Tindal’s knowledge, BuzzFeed is the first such news publisher to do so for articles. Editors have been having fun with the new function, putting emojis in posts just as they would emails or text messages to friends.


BuzzFeed also created a style for where emojis should go — outside punctuation marks, not inside of them.


In addition to emoji support, BuzzFeed is experimenting with a CMS tweak that’s not as apparent from the outside. The product team has also built a redesigned mobile preview — which has so far been rolled out to a group of about 40 staffers — that requires editors to scroll past a mobile preview of a post before they see a desktop preview. The new feature is designed to force editors, who spend their days working on desktops, to have mobile presentation foremost in their minds.

“That’s a pretty major change, really emphasizing the importance of mobile and putting it front of mind with the design,” Tindal said.

The preview feature also helps editors troubleshoot posts that might not display well on mobile devices, Tindal said. When they’re about to publish a post with embedded content that the CMS doesn’t recognize, it texts them an error message and asks them to examine the content on their phone before publishing it.


“What we wanted to do with this was make sure that if an embed was mobile-friendly, that it would be displayed,” Tindal said.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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