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The Adventures of Spam Clicker and Interesting Thing

May 20, 2015

For the sake of argument, assume that yesterday morning something interesting happened. Don’t check the date, any yesterday will do. We’ll call this interesting thing “Interesting Thing”. When Interesting Thing happened, the Internet, narcissistic beast that it is, devoured it and digested it by sundown. By the next morning, Interesting Thing served it’s purpose, and was unceremoniously defecated off the front page.

Sometime a week or two later, I came along and discovered Interesting Thing. I write an article about it, and everyone wonders why I invested so much energy into a partially digested lump of shit.

(Hello loyal reader! Welcome back! Yes, there is still one of you.)

This is why:

There is a difference between the lifespan of Interesting Thing as intellectual fodder, and lifespan of Interesting Thing as a revenue driver. Internet revenue is based on hits. The quality of those hit’s doesn’t really matter, and is typically un-tracked. All that matters is 1) how many people saw the page (more specifically, the ads on it) and 2) how many people clicked on one of those ads.

When you click on an article, it’s a hit. End of story. Find out that it’s actually just a slide show with no words? That’s a hit. Those ads that pop up at the last second, so you click them accidentally? That’s a hit. Or the adds at the bottom of the page that look like more articles from the same site, but actually aren’t? Another hit. Hits = money. If you’re like me, you closed those pages before they finished loading. Doesn’t matter, still a hit. Getting someone to the article is more important than getting them to read it.

What does this have to do with internet article life span? The ecosystem values quantity over quality. “Value” isn’t an abstract term here, it’s actual money. But it’s even worse than that, quality isn’t simply less important, it’s irrelevant. Quality only matters if it further drives quantity.

So why does this all work? Wouldn’t we all stop visiting the click bait garbage in time? There is a certain kind of reader that exists on the internet. We’ll call them Spam Clicker. Spam Clicker logs in every time they: ride the bus, shit, watch television, or wait for anything, ever.

After they get online, they check their Facebook timeline and click on an interesting sounding article one of their friends posted. Say, this well thought out article about rape in fiction. They click on the link, see too many words, and close the page. No matter, it’s a hit. Then they are back in the feed, they see this reactionary article about some comments Simon Peg made in an interview. Click. Too many words. Close. Another hit. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Of course, I’m giving Spam Clicker the benefit of the doubt here, in the real world their timeline is full of links to re-blogs of re-blogs with no relation to what actually happened.

The next day, this person sees another link, to another article about either of those things that weren’t interesting enough to read the first time. No clicks. No hits. No ad revenue. Too late. Who wrote the article doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Interesting Thing already happened. It’s old, and they need to hop back on the hedonistic treadmill and chase after something else.

Of course, they aren’t going anywhere.

If you want to make money, you need this person and all the people like them. Even if you haven’t monetized your site (that’s polite terminology for “l buried your content with ads”) there is still the drive for more hits. When you’re screaming into the void, the only tangible way to gauge your success is how many people stop and stare. But that’s misleading. If you write good stuff, you’ll get reader(s) (Hello again reader!). But just because you get hits doesn’t mean you write good stuff. It could just mean you write trollbait with provocative titles.

So, read good stuff. You made it this far, so you’ve got patience. Now go find some more long articles with no pictures and have a ball.