Scott Hanselman

Here's 10 things I did before I wrote this blog post title. What happened next will shock you.

February 01, 2014 Comment on this post [31] Posted in Musings
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What a crap title, eh? Just the worst. But this kind of linkbait garbage is rampant on our internet - that's yours and my internet, people - and we're promoting their chicanery by spreading their links.

This came to a head for me yesterday when a video started going viral on the social web AGAIN. I say AGAIN because it was the same darn video from 5 years ago, just with a new title. Seriously, a totally unrelated "viral" site made up a new title, called it an article, then embedded the video with their ads everywhere, then (I presume) went to their bosses and say "my stuff generated x PV (page views) this week."

Step 4. PROFIT

I partially blame BuzzFeed, but every once in a while they have a decent article. Upworthy is another, disguising their stealing with an "inspirational spin." One that is the worst is ViralNova - find them yourself, no link from me. Sites like these started this style of hanging headline:

  • It Might Seem Like A Normal Temple From The Outside. But Go Inside And… AHHHH!
  • This Is The Most Unique Sunrise You’ll Ever See. Guaranteed.
  • A 12 Year-Old Boy Wrote The Perfect Advice To Understand Women. This Is Priceless.
  • You’ll Have No Idea What You’re Seeing In These 20 Photos. But Look A Little Closer…

How is this a business? Apparently mining for Page Views is more profitable than mining for Bitcoin.

And now this madness is spreading to CNN. That's supposed to be a real news site, folks.

These are custom designed to prey on our base human need to always be seeing new crap. It's drug pushing.

Many sites declare their content "curated" and pull it (most often without explicit permission) from elsewhere. They pull so much from the original site that there's usually no reason to visit the original site! One article recently had 20 high resolution pictures lifted from elsewhere. Buried in the the post it said "via so-in-so" so I visited there, if only to give my page view to the original author and some how cleanse myself. I counted the photos while I was there. There where 20 images. They had reblogged them all.

These are entire "media companies" that have turned reblogging into an art. Reblogging is not journalism. It's not even nice. It's not appreciated, it's not appropriate, and it's not kind.

When you blog, think about what it really means to curate. Consider the Curator's Code. When you use something, give attribution or a hat tip. Confused or not sure if you should use something, ask. Just email them, explain what you want to do, and ask.

There's even Chrome extensions like @snipeyhead's "Downworthy" that will replace the text in headlines like these with more appropriate text.

Please, don't start a multimillion pageview media conglomerate based on copy-pasting other people's hard work combined with deceptive copywriting.

Reject them. I reject them. Will the beginning of the end start on the Dark and Evil Side of the Internet or will it sneak up on us slowly with harmless titles like "The 26 Craziest Crimes That Involve Taco Bell." OMG! I have to click.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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February 01, 2014 3:44
Well said Scott.

But for years, Google and Facebook's revenues have been artificially inflated by this link bait trash and the accompanying adverts, and this is increasing exponentially, so can't see them wanting to actually stop it.

Think it will become increasingly apparent that most of the Internets advertising revenues are only a little better than a ponzi scheme.
February 01, 2014 3:58
Well said, sadly, I think the only way we clean this up to have copyright authors have some form of copyright enforcement. But as we know this is a big mess.

Of course, with people like "Upworthy" focusing on Youtube videos, we're in this weird spot where Youtube gets ad revenue and so does the link bait site and so does the Youtuber (sometimes), so everyone kind of feels like they are winning.

Honestly, don't know if we can fix this without a serious look at both copyright and people like Youtube having clear policies on activities like embedding. I'm honestly not clear about the end result of even these changes.
February 01, 2014 4:03
Notices the "what happened next" getting very popular the recent week. Saddest part is, when the actual content is cool and interesting. And it's all killed beforehand by being such an ugly click-me, here, over here, click me!! title..

KONY2012!! or what was it, again? ...
February 01, 2014 4:05
Someone pointed out to me the trend of article titles telling you how to feel. "You will be Amazed!", "Prepare to be incensed!". Now that I know I can't stop seeing it. Part of me wishes to be oblivious again. Sorry to anyone else this may effect.
February 01, 2014 4:05
So... what did happen next?
February 01, 2014 4:56
@JeffFritz. We all got wise, and link-bait died! (or was that a dream?) You'll be astounded! Click this link to find out what really happened! (LOL)
February 01, 2014 5:00
You should listen to or read "Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator." It tells how the whole business behind this works. You'll never trust anything again, even when they do cite references.
February 01, 2014 5:36
1 have orginal content generators register their work with a website

2 write a web crawler in .net that can compare images and other works for what is registered.

3 Send ominous and legally threatening letters to owners of websites to pay up or else.

4 Take a cut off the top.

I feel dirty just putting that into print
February 01, 2014 6:00
Agree with you 100%, and also understand that we cannot stop someone from wanting to create (more like copy & paste) content in the internet to gain page views. Instead, we should come to senses and avoid clicking on those stupid headlines, we all know they are crap and most of us keep clicking on them.
February 01, 2014 7:32
My pet peeve is any headline with a question mark in it "Report: The next iPhone will run Android apps?"

Such a cop out.
February 01, 2014 7:57
Simpsons did it.
February 01, 2014 16:53
The local TV news stations have been doing this for decades. It's called a tease, and they run it right before the commercials so you stick with them instead of surfing.

Then more recently it's on all these prime time shows... Biggest Loser and the like.

Yes it's annoying and awful but it's just human nature to do anything possible to make as much money as you can. Every system we participate in is driven mostly by those looking to game it as much as is legally possible, and sometimes even more. Never going to stop that or even slow it down.
February 01, 2014 19:09
What's been getting on my nerves lately are the "One weird trick" ads/links.

  • "Lose 3 lbs. of belly fat a week with this one weird trick"

  • "You won't believe how [insert, often inaccurate, location based info here] motorists are getting out of speeding tickets using this one weird trick"
  • February 01, 2014 19:14
    A Finnish web site just celebrated their new record: a million visitors per month. Talking about how it's cool and they need more hardware and more cat videos. Their business plan: copy paste "funny" stuff will click-bait link titles, all content from other feeds etc and a short text in Finnish.

    I really hope someone would sue these sites for stealing and recycling content all over again.
    February 01, 2014 19:51
    Best response to this I've seen is @huffpospoilers on twitter - takes Huffington Post hanging headlines, and tweets the missing piece of information, like this:

    Music RT @HuffingtonPost Don't forget the most important part of your Super Bowl party (hint: it's not beer or wings)

    21,500; also 20,000 sausages RT @HuffingtonPost: You'll never guess how many hot dogs will be made at this year's Super Bowl venue

    Would love to build a browser extension that identifies this kind of clickbait link, spiders the linked article for you, does a bit of smart NLP on the content to identify core themes, and then automatically generates these huffpospoiler-style tl;dr's....
    February 01, 2014 22:17
    Then there is always the ultimate FUD factor "Wait till you see these pictures and what I found out about you". --sigh --
    February 01, 2014 22:53
    The problem is that we do all still click on those crazy headlines. Even when we should know better - both in terms of knowing that the article will be crap and also knowing it will just waste some of time that could otherwise be productive.

    What would be interesting would be finding some way of knowing how many readers of the article then opened a new tab and searched for "The 26 Craziest Crimes That Involve A Taco Bell"... (and worse still, who else copied the fact every word is capitalised...)
    February 02, 2014 1:41
    This plugin doesn't work all of the time for headlines like this, but when it does it's worth it.
    February 02, 2014 2:04
    Sadly this tactic has now been adopted by even Mr. Gates:
    What does it cost to save the life of a child? The answer may surprise you:
    via: @BillGates
    February 02, 2014 19:54
    You totally nailed this. Frankly, I'm thinking about taking the link bait sites and redirecting them at the router. That's one of Ten Amazing Ways You Can Avoid Advertising Disguised As Content.
    February 03, 2014 8:43
    Just for kicks I looked up Viral Nova. According to the about page ( the author is a "...advertising major and an Internet junkie." What's amusing is that according to him "there are beautiful, remarkable stories every day about people around the world who NEED help" and "there are plans to expand efforts to further so many causes around the Web." So look for lots more link bait from Viral Nova.

    I kind of expect crap like this from no-name startup news/advertising sites like these but it's really disappointing when you see it from reputable (or should I say formerly reputable) sites like CNN.
    February 03, 2014 9:33
    I would be interested to know if this blog post gets more clicks than the usual. :)

    And I thought I have a bit of fun with your recent blog titles:

  • Hanselman's Amazing Revelation About People-Centric UI And Why The Gu's Reaction Will Shock You

  • Top 10 Amazing Tricks With WebJobs And Why The Azure Experts Don't Want You To Find Out

  • What I Did After Shaving The Yak Will Stop You In Your Tracks
  • Ken
    February 03, 2014 11:19
    How about we all install Adblock Plus, taking away their income. That way it doesn't matter if we get caught with link bait once in a while...

    I hate ads more than anything, it ruined the internet.
    February 03, 2014 17:37
    The writing style reminds me of those "news" rags near the checkout line at the grocery store. Perhaps they were the first ones to use this style.

    Are all of our news media outlets similar to the National Enquirer?
    February 03, 2014 21:28
    Scott, I agree with all you said here but where is the goddamn link to the 26 Craziest Crimes That Involve Taco Bell? GIVE ME THE &%*$#@ LINK!
    February 04, 2014 9:35
    I get stuff forwarded to me by incredibly smart (or so I thought) people with Ivy league degrees and years of never being beaten in any trivial pursuit game in ANY subject.

    I can't get them to stop.

    My Facebook profile says "I will never install your Facebook app. Ever. Stop sending me your crap."

    I'm in Indiana, we have unpredictable weather. But I noticed one day when they were talking about tornadoes *in my neighborhood* that conditions were more of a "severe clear" nature and realized that even the weather channel was doing it. "Don't change the channel or even look away because you'll probably die!!"

    I just don't understand why thinking people get suckered into this.

    Or how I can make them stop.
    February 05, 2014 22:53
    I blame Jon Morrow for writing "Headline Hacks"
    February 10, 2014 20:06
    The real question is why these business models work better than the ones who actually create content. Why do we find these aggregation sites before the original content?
    Stackoverflow faced similar issues for a while:
    February 18, 2014 23:12
    You say CNN is doing this now as if it's new. But remember the local news has done this for decades. "Something in your house could be killing you, find out what tonight at 11."
    February 19, 2014 2:50
    Headline teasers or hooks have been around long before the internet. Newspapers use bolded excerpts or quotes to get a reader's attention. I think the problem is with the content, not the hook. If it's reblogged and not attributed properly, sure that's a problem. If CNN or Bill Gates have a story with a reveal, and the headline indicates as much, I don't see how that's a problem.
    March 03, 2014 13:51
    Unless I'm mistaken, whenever anyone narrates your BLOG material, you can sue them for Copyright Infringement.

    I am a Photographer, if I photograph any Copyrighted item such as a Marble Statue, an Album Cover, a Photograph, a piece of Jewelery, or a page of Calligraphy without the Copyright Owners Permission-- I would be guilty of Copyright Infringement even though the copy I made is in a different medium (photograph versus: Marble, cardboard, photo-paper, metal/stone, & paper).
    Your original BLOG would commonly be interpreted as written words, the narration, a spoken version of those very same written words; different media, but again same Copyright Infringement.


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    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.