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What do you do when you want to attract eyeballs to your site? You could spend time and effort curating content which is well-written, fact checked and original. You could craft your art and build a following. You could engage with your readers and let your content (and audience) grow naturally. That sounds like hard work, though. Why bother doing all that when you can just share someone else’s content and give it a linkbait headline?
Linkbait headlines are truly shocking
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Upworthy has been doing rather well of late. They’ve been described by Fast Company as the fastest growing media company of all time. This astronomical success has come from articles that are designed to spread more wildly than norovirus on a cruise ship. A vital component of this is a headline that is designed to catch attention.
The three sites guiltiest of this are (in my humble opinion) Upworthy, Viralnova and (to a lesser extent) ThinkProgress. They use a formula which is equal-parts hyperbole, histrionics and vagueness to get you to click through, often to content that is utterly mundane or isn’t even slightly original.
Understandably, this gets on the nerves of an awful lot of people. It has been roundly satirized with the likes of Upworthy Generator, which spawns articles created in the style of Upworthy. Venerable technology magazine ‘The Kernel’ have also taken pot-shots at Upworthy describing it as “basically evil”, adding that it caters “to the basest and most recklessly childish of human instincts” and skims “a neat profit off the top”.
Joining the anti-Upworthy backlash is ‘Downworthy‘. This Chrome plugin turns flagrantly linkbait headlines into something a bit more… Well, honest.
The plugin says what we’ve all been thinking
Downworthy transforms the headlines found on viral news articles, and transforms them into something a bit more realistic. In the words of the developer, Alison Gianotto:
Downworthy replaces hyberbolic headlines from bombastic viral websites with a slightly more realistic version. For example:
- “Literally” becomes “Figuratively”
- “Will Blow Your Mind” becomes “Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment”
- “One Weird Trick” becomes “One Piece of Completely Anecdotal Horses***”
You get the idea. You can grab the Downworthy extension from the Chrome App store. Once installed, your address bar is adorned with… Well… Ahem. I gave it a quick test run on ViralNova, with sidesplittingly hilarious results. It’s really funny to see “What This Mom And Dad Did For Their Family Of 6 Took Serious Guts. But I Absolutely Love It.” become: “Here are 20 unbelievable places you would swear aren’t real… But they are” was likewise transformed into: “I Had No Idea This Winter Phenomenon Even Happened. And Now I Can’t Stop Looking At It… Wow.” became:
A Journalist is concluding an article. Here’s why.
As a technology journalist, it’s important to me that what I write is accurate and isn’t misleading. I want my readers to be able to look at a headline, and to have an idea of what my article is about. I don’t want people to read my stuff and feel tricked or deceived. This is why shameless linkbait bothers me so much. I feel that it’s utterly dishonest, and shows utter contempt to consumers of digital content. Downworthy at least reminds us that other people feel the same way.
But what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.