At the end of 2018, BuzzFeed sent Ms. McMahon a package containing branded swag. “They told me I was the number-one user this year with all my views,” she told New York Magazine. Ms. McMahon, now 23 and working for Netflix, felt guilty at the time that her work as a community member could have affected the jobs of BuzzFeed employees. She stopped making quizzes in 2019.
“I never had any delusions that the expertise that we were bringing to quiz making or list writing in the mid-2010s wasn’t expendable — I got laid off when I was 29, and that did not feel like a coincidence to me,” said Erin Chack, a former BuzzFeed senior editor who, like Mr. Perpetua, was laid off in 2019. “I started to age out of being culturally relevant, and they replaced me with a 23-year-old who they could pay half my salary, and it never hurt my feelings.”
“This just feels kind of like an evolution of that same thing,” she added. “Like the Millennials got replaced by Gen Z, and now Gen Z is getting replaced by A.I.”
“I see people online being like, ‘You could never paint the Sistine Chapel with A.I.,’” said Ms. Chack, who now works for Netflix. “I don’t think it’s that precious. I would not be surprised if these robots write wonderful, nuanced quizzes.” Ms. Chack, 33, started at the company in 2014 and was also laid off in 2019.
Still, some former employees feel something intangible, yet critical, is lost when you remove the human element from content creation. “I think now that the quizzes are so template-ized a robot probably could write a BuzzFeed quiz, but it’s going to be lacking the heart that we all really put into it back in the day,” said Jen Lewis, a former senior illustrator who left the company in 2017. Ms. Lewis’s early design work would go on to become the colorful and widely recognizable style associated with BuzzFeed quizzes.
Ms. Chack cited a quiz, created by a colleague at the time, Lauren Yapalater, in which users answered questions to find out which member of the Beatles they were. The twist was that the only possible outcome after answering the quiz was Ringo Starr. Every person who took the quiz, no matter what they answered, was told they were Ringo Starr.
“I’m sure they will write successful quizzes,” Ms. Chack said of OpenAI. “I’m sure they will write quizzes that get clicked on. Will they write ‘Which Beatle Are You,’ and every answer is Ringo? Only Lauren Yapalater can write that.”