Remember back in the late 90′s when you’d regularly receive emails warning you of the dangers of toilet spiders, or promising cash from Bill Gates or a free trip to Disneyland in exchange for forwarding the email? Maybe you had a particularly gullible friend or family member who would frequently forward such emails to their entire address book. Aren’t you glad that trend died down? I know I am.
Unfortunately, the modern-day equivalent of the ridiculous chain-email is alive and well — I’m talking about link bait blog posts. Link bait blogs posts have thin content, often a list or a short embedded video, with a headline crafted to be irresistible. The formula is simple. You can download this book that explains it if you don’t mind joining Jon Morrow’s email list. In a nutshell, it’s usually either something designed to shock or scare you, promise inner peace, make you feel special, or show you how you’re doing it wrong.
It’s getting old.
Like forwarding an email hoax, sharing a link bait blog post is a sign of being a n00b on the Internet. They’re polluting our Twitter and Facebook feeds, lowering the signal to noise ratio, and drowning out the real content. It needs to stop. So let’s all raise our standards and make room for truly thoughtful and meaningful content. Make it your New Year’s Resolution to not share link bait from these four sites:
- BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed didn’t invent link bait. But they sure have taken it to a whole new level with a formula that appears to work very well (too well). I’d bet there’s an internal checklist each author has to go through while creating a listicle. Make the number of items not divisible by 5, so it seems “random”. Make it something that appeals to nostalgia for people in their 20s & 30s. Target a group and make them feel special. Repeat for every possible group imaginable. “39 things only redheads/blondes/women-with-large-breasts/women-with-small-breasts/people-from-wisconsin/people-from-texas will understand.”
- Upworthy. Oh look, Rachel Maddow found a clip where someone appears to outsmart a conservative politician in a cherry-picked, out-of-context quote. That’s her job, people. It’s not news. That’s why she has a TV show. Sharing that with your friends, who mostly have the same politics as you do, is just preaching to the choir. It accomplishes nothing. The people who don’t agree with you have probably already hidden you from their facebook feeds for sharing a constant stream of partisan dreck.
- Huffington Post. HuffPo has tens of thousands of contributors and publishes hundreds of articles per day. They are basically a content farm, churning out a huge volume of content targeted to whatever terms are trending in search and social media on an hourly basis. Most of their posts are complete junk. They even have an entire section dedicated to Kim Kardashian. Okay, I made that up, but it might as well be true. They do have sections dedicated to cats, dogs, and even birds.
- Viral Nova. This site isn’t as big as the others but I’m seeing it more frequently (too frequently) so let’s nip it in the bud. They’re schtick is all about piquing your curiosity, promising shock and awe if you click that link. “This tree/teenage-girl/iceberg looks average at first, but when you get a better look… wow. You just have to see this.” “You’ll be shocked by what’s inside this box.” Literally, two of the stories on the front page at this moment are about a fucking box. Neither thing inside of them (furniture, and a kitten) was all that shocking.
Happy New Year!