Did The Story Of Iowa Teen Hero Zach Wahls Accidentally Create The Popular Site Upworthy?

zach wahls 4We were bopping around SXSW when we stumbled across a weird fact: Upworthy, the site with progressive videos and head-scratchingly vague headlines, owes some of its success to Zach Wahls.

Zach, you may recall, is the Iowa teenager whose video about his lesbian moms went crazy-viral a couple of years ago. Millions of people saw the video. He later wrote a book about his family and appeared on The Daily Show.

We sat in on a panel that the Upworthy folks presented, and they explained how the Whales stories became the vision for the inspirational digital magazine.

The site didn’t exist when Zach made his famous speech. Back in 2011, his video went viral the old-fashioned way: LGBT nerds passed it around on Facebook. Then discovered it months later and reposted it. Their addition: the headline “Two Lesbians Raised a Baby and This is What They Got.”

It’s a familiar format: a little bit of risqué and just enough ambiguity to pique the curiosity. Today, that headline formula is so overused (by lots of sites) that it’s become annoying, completely devoid of useful content. But back then, it was an intriguing way of luring readers.

Before MoveOn’s headline trick, the video was just shy of two million views. Afterwards, it topped 17 million. Okay!

Shortly after MoveOn posted the hit video, executive director Eli Pariser co-founded Upworthy with The Onion‘s Peter Koechley, and the rest is history. Zach and his two moms are international heroes, and Upworthy is one of the most widely read blogs in the world, with tens of millions of unique visitors every month.