Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I Tried to Write Click Bait… And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!

Just one click. It won't hurt.
I promise.
Actually, you’ve probably already sure what would happen if I tried to write click bait. The main purveyors of click bait won’t be wondering how to contact me to get me to write for them. After all, the click bait version of my blog is This Man Invented a Language — And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next or Two Men Met in Washington, D.C. — What Happened Will Make You Cry![1]

I admit it: if I saw something with a titles like this on a friend’s Facebook feed, I wouldn’t click it. (I’m happy to do the experiment.) So maybe, I’m dooming this post to No-Click Hell. I don’t know. The reason I’m writing this it to point out that I have very little idea what posts are and aren’t going to catch on, beyond some really broad parameters. Also, because the New York Times just looked at click bait, under the title “You Won’t Believe What These People Say About ‘Click Bait’,” though what they say is exactly what you expect.

What the Room for Debate piece needed was someone who wanted to take the other side. Is there no one who is willing to defend click bait (okay, not me, I hate the stuff). While Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine,[2] is able to explain the addictive aspects of click bait, she doesn’t suggest that it’s a good thing, just
a natural evolution, and consequence, of the Internet that affects our flow of attention.
Often, when I’m writing something, I assume that it will be really popular among those who read my blog, and instead it sits there unread. Conversely, I’ll write something and see it succeed beyond my expectations. Though it’s not as if anything has gone viral. Nor do I expect anything to, since the most popular and common topic on this blog is invented languages. Yeah, I write for me.

In the Times, Jonah Berger[0] makes the claim (right there in his title), that “readers don’t like to be fooled.” That’s not true. Readers love to be fooled. So do movie goers. People don’t like to be tricked. I love it when there’s a twist and something really gets me. I don’t like having my time wasted, which is why I stopped clicking on Unworthy links (which seem to have vanished from my Facebook feed anyway). Do I really want to spend five minutes watching a video (as ads get plastered next to it) for a low-payoff item which I could have read in 30 seconds if it were text? Uh, no.

I do agree with Berger that
click bait is bad because it overpromises and underdelivers. The content doesn’t usually live up to the bluster and in the end we’re left disappointed.
I suspect the instant someone clicks on one of my posts, it counts as a click for Google AdSense, even if they don’t scroll all the way to the bottom where the ad is (you’re almost to it, unless you were so eager to check out the ad, you started by scrolling to the bottom and then decided to read the article.) I hope that my blog pieces underpromise and overdeliver.

It’s nothing new, and it’s not the web. One person who left a comment on the Times site noted that tv news programs have been doing this for years, and cites a George Carlin routine poking fun at it. I’ve actually wondered how much times Rachel Maddow spends telling you what’s coming up in her show. We got it, Rachel, you don’t want us to tune out after the second segment. Sad to say, sometimes Maddow is a little click baiting about it. Sometimes it seems the amount of time she spends promoting a segment exceeds the actual length of the segment.

A confession: I first drafted this in August, and then let it sit. After reading the piece in the Times, I decided it was time to dust it off and finish it.

A promise: I’m certainly not trying to write click bait (given the low number of clicks I receive each day, I think I’ve succeeded admirably). If you think I’ve unfairly enticed you to read an article, let me know. I give you the time back that you spent reading the article, but it might push me to identify a problem with headlines.

  1. I admit that I don’t try for the journalistic headline, and my use of "Tutonish — From an ‘Economist of Language’” was meant to pique curiosity, and in naming the other one “Sexual Perversion in Washington,” I was trying to entice, without being too clickbaiting. The title on the second one is taken directly from the headline, “Sexual Perversion.” Of course, you could accuse the Washington Sunday Morning Globe of click bating on November 10, 1901.  ↩
  2. Full disclosure: I don’t know her.  ↩

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