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Making Sense of Online Quizzes

Mar 21, 2014

Credit buzzfeed.com

So which super power should you have? Which U.S. President are you?  Which member of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials are you?

Seriously, there's actually a quiz for all of those questions on the internet.

There's no real answer as to why anyone would actually want to know these things, but Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project" does have some answers about why there are all these online quizzes.

"What's going on here is that news websites have figured out that the total number of visitors is not the most important thing," McBride explained. "Instead you want to use another metric to gauge your performance. And that metric is audience engagement. So, last year "The New York Times" had this quiz about your speech - where are you from based on the words that you use. And that was the single most viewed piece on The New York Times all year. "BuzzFeed" was also doing a lot of quizzes last year. Now everybody's doing it."

That explains why these quizzes are showing up.

It doesn't explain why so many people are taking these quizzes.

"The other thing that's going on is that we are incredibly egocentric, right? We are narcissistic," said McBride. "So it's fun to do these quizzes because it's all about you."

But the bottom line is it's all about money.

"People are wasting a lot of time on these online quizzes and the reason news sites want you to waste time is they want to figure out a way to make the advertising more effective," McBride said. "If you are engaged there is this idea - not fully baked yet - that the advertising will be more effective and, therefore, they can charge more of the advertiser because they have this engaged audience. Now there's nothing that proves the engaged audience is going to respond more to the advertising - yet. So we still don't know if this idea is going to bear itself out, that engagement is more effective for advertisers. But that's the premise right now and so it's all about the economics."