The ultimate clickbait

August 24, 2015 • 2:00 pm

We all know about the “clickbait” used by sites like PuffHo and BuzzFeed to get you to click to new pages, all in the interest of having you see more ads. It can take the form of “teasers,” or of “listicles”: things like, “Ten awesome new ways to use avocados,” which involves clicking on ten successive pages.

These things really annoy me because the ploy is so obvious. One of the worst brands of these articles is the “you wouldn’t believe what happened next!” tag, which of course requires you to click on a new page to find out what happened.

Well, perusing PuffHo, I came upon one of the more noxious subspecies of the species given above.  Lexi Novak (a woman) has written this piece taken from  Allure. (Click on the screenshot to go to the piece):

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 11.35.31 AM

What sentient being could resist that? I couldn’t. Did vermin grow in her armpits? Did she become a social pariah? Go see for yourself.

Here’s an excerpt:

Day two: Before attempting a deodorant detox for seven days, I probably should have checked the weather forecast, because I picked the hottest, muggiest week of the year. The streets were swampy, the subway was an inferno, and my armpits were rank. Awesome!

Awesome indeed. It goes downhill from there.  Here is the miscreant in her sweeter-smelling days:


Below the article are 182 comments—about ten times what I get for a science post on this site. Should I should write about not wearing deodorant?

And the comments are pretty bad, too. Here are the two most recent:

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 1.10.15 PM

God bless America—land that I love!

Put your thoughts about online journalism and the “see more pages” trick below.

107 thoughts on “The ultimate clickbait

    1. The commenter is either a native English speaker, and simply mistyped (the likely explanation, I think), or she’s writing in a second language and made a mistake. I don’t see either as a reason for mockery.

        1. No, I think the problem is more that many people are remarkably uncharitable, and prone to jump to interpretations that cast others in a bad light. Especially when commenting online.

          1. You’ll note there’s no conclusion in my comment. Just a suggestion that you shouldn’t rule out the hypothesis that that she thought “paided” was correct. I think the probability is low, but I wouldn’t dismiss it entirely.

        2. I am reminded of a letter which once found it’s way, correctly, to the offices of the caving magazine “Descent”, despite being addressed to “Decent Magazine”.
          The offender (against English) came from the West Country, where English is a second language at best.

      1. If English was not my first language I hope I would have enough common sense not to critique it’s use by others.

        So of course it is a perfect reason for mockery.

        But what is being mocked is not the commenters use of English, rather their complete lack of self awareness.

        1. Would you, then, accept mockery for the improper use of “it’s”? Because you used the wrong one (as did the poster above you). Just sayin’.

  1. To be fair, as interesting as your science posts are (and they are!), unless the reader is also a biologist they aren’t going to be able to say much one way or the other. Meanwhile, all of us use deodorant and/or are around people who don’t.

    1. Quite. And those are *Facebook* comments that approach that nadir of comment quality: YouTube comments. I’m not seeing any reason why Jerry should be envious of quantity over quality when it comes to comments.

      Meanwhile…WEIT is free of click bait ads (Praise Ceiling Cat). I’m glad WEIT didn’t move to Patheos, where click bait “Around the Web” type ads are the rule rather than the exception.

    2. To be fair, what PCC posts and what his scientific readers write are definitely well worth reading. And, once in awhile, this upstart non-scientist tries to participate.

      I’d prefer not to have garbage-content lists and false lead-ins on the internet to entice readers. There’s too much mindless “news” and “entertainment.

      Even if we can’t all be scientist-level intellectuals, we can aim to learn more interesting and useful information from WEIT and other such sources.

    3. Actually, no. I’ve never used deodourant, and simply don’t notice if others are or are not. It’s the having a shower or other wash about once a day that really matters. Unless you’re a deodourant salesman.

  2. I pride myself on my ability to avoid clicking. I have only clicked on one or two in the past year, and those happened to involve things I was really interested in from a scientific perspective: global warming and sex.

        1. Don’t need a rocket scientist to tell me it’s hot…over 100°F right now, headed towards an high of only 106°F…slight cooling trend for tomorrow, then right back up to 108°F on Thursday, and 111°F on Saturday. Nothing below 104°F in the ten-day, with the lowest overnight low at 79°F.

          I remember August being bad, but not this bad….


              1. Weather in the northwestern U.S. is not in the 100s, but is in the 80s now and was in the 90s earlier, with a few 100s+. Little to no rain, which is abnormal for here.

                Grain and hay had to be cut much earlier than usual. Farmers all over, if they haven’t bought hay already, may have trouble finding it for their animals later, except at an exorbitant cost. Animals will have to be culled. Food prices are already going up.

                There are so many wildfires in the region that Washington has asked for citizen volunteers to help fight fire and 4000, so far, have answered the call; 200 of which have been accepted. Only people with previous firefighting experience, or the ability to run bulldozers, etc., need apply. I also read that Australian and New Zealand firefighters are on their way to help.

                Smoke is everywhere. A few people are out with their cameras trying to take photos of the amazing red sun and sunset.

                No global warming, eh?!

          1. Wisconsin’s been having a strangely mild summer this year. I don’t think there have been more than five or six days of 90+, and a ton of days haven’t gone that much over 80. Right now we’ve got a bit of a cold snap, with several days in a row of not even making it to 70… normally it’s a good deal warmer this time of year.

            1. Yes, strange isn’t it? I had to get a blanket out last night. Now all of our windows are closed. And it is still August! (Milwaukee boy, here.)

  3. This sort of thing seems to be a common ploy among journalists who can’t think of anything else to write about. There was one journalist a few months ago who spent a few weeks dousing herself with AXE body spray to see who would notice.

    And I think there was a guy who did the no-deodorant thing a while back, too.

    1. I’ve been doing it for 60 odd years with few complaints. I suppose coming up to retirement I could become eccentric and also stop showering.

      1. Not everyone who thinks you stink will complain about it.

        I worked with a lady who bragged about not using deodorant and I thought to myself that explained why she reeked when she came back from lunch on a summer day.

    2. I once went four months without bathing OR deodorant. Not on purpose…I was doing fieldwork in a really cold place, a remote mountain in Mexico, and was too much of a wimp to bathe in the cold streams. I found that an equilibrium between dirt and exfoliation is reached in about two weeks. After that, one doesn’t get much worse.

        1. But civilization doesn’t have Resplendant Quetzals, Horned Guans, Azure-rumped Tanagers, or jaguars, like my Mexican mountain did. I’ll trade showers for those any day.

  4. I think you may be undercutting the consideration your readers have for your posts. You should definitely makes posts about nonsense if you want nonsense comments. You should make well reasoned science posts if you want well reasoned responses. Most likely feel they lack the expertise to add value to your science posts with a comment. Please, make a post asking how many readers actually read your science posts but refrain from commenting. I’d wager a fair donation to the charity of your choice it’s at LEAST 182 readers. All I would ask in return is the post itself.

    1. Readers have chimed in to that precise effect many times already.

      Posts that are amenable to amateur opinion and speculation will naturally garner more comments.

  5. Hate it when you go to a site like babiesrus looking at things.Yes i’m gonna be a grandma soon.Well when i go to another site not related to baby anything on the side of the site are babiesrus ads to click on. Its like the pc knows what i’m thinking about and its following me.

    1. Its like the pc knows what i’m thinking about and its following me.

      The computer you’re sitting in front of doesn’t, but the various ad networks (including Google) do. There’re all sorts of ways of identifying and tracking you as you surf the Web. You’re likely at least somewhat familiar with the most ancient of them, “cookies,” but there’s been an ever-increasing arms race between the advertisers and everybody else that has rendered cookies obsolete.

      It’s very, very difficult to browse without having, effectively, a spotlight centered on a barcode tattooed on your forehead. Check out Tails for the least user-unfriendly way.


      1. The September 2015 issue of Scientific American, in addition to having numerous interesting articles about Einstein, has an
        article on page 31 by David Pogue titled “Super Siri”. Three of Siri’s creators have left Apple to create a next generation version of Siri called “Viv”. “Viv’s knowledge and vocabulary will be extensible and unlimited. They will tap into the databases of thousands of online services…
        and understand how everything all fits together”.

        Microsoft, Google and Apple are all working on upgrades to their voice assistants.

        Every move you make on the internet will be captured and used to direct ads to you and to “assist” you with purchases.

        1. I’m very, very close to jumping ship entirely.

          I’ll likely be getting a new iMac sooner rather than later, which I expect will be my last computer purchase for a loooooooong time. I’ll stick with OS X for a while longer…but, once the Gimp finishes catching up to where Photoshop was several years ago, I’ll prepare to switch back to an OpenBSD-based desktop environment. Not sure what I’d do about a smartphone.

          I’ve had it with this bullshit. None of these entities have any business knowing my business. I don’t give a fuck what they say they’re doing with the information; I just don’t want to have Big Brother crawling up my ass day and night.


          1. Look at Privacy Badger from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an extension which blocks various third party ‘following’ tricks, although currently only for Firefox and Chrome.

            Watch out for Windows 10 where Microsoft are trying to bind you to their products and find out all about you. You can run under a local id (rather than a Microsoft id) to avoid this, but you don’t get all the ‘benefits’ either.

            1. The Windows 10 universal keylogger is being forced onto Windows 7 and Windows 8 users through “critical updates.” Basically, if not already, then, soon, a Microsoft server will have a record of every key you type on a Windows computer. All in the name of “feature enhancements” and “analytics” and the like, of course….


    2. Of course. Not your PC knows what you are interested in, but Google and all the other internet applications, like facebook etc. Once, in Germany I got one tooth pulled next to an existing vacancy, and lo and behold, ads for dental bridges appeared all over the place. Of course, the culprit is the health insurance company that passed on the details about my teeth.

    3. Rose – me, too. I’m going to be a first-and second-time grandma in Dec and Feb! I did order some stuff from Carter’s but, surprisingly, have not been innundated with ads – yet! But the one time I looked up some skorts for Diana (all her fault;-) on L.L. Bean led to skort ads every single day!

    4. Ahh.. so when was the last time you cleared out your cookies? And were you signed in to Google, Facebook or Twitter at the time? Did you sign out of Babies R Us if you were signed in at all? Your computer doesn’t know, but most online services make their money by gathering and selling data from visitors in order to sell ads and much of it is collected through cookies. What you were seeing were targeted ads served to you because the cookies told ad servers what you had been surfing recently. By being signed in to certain services while you’re surfing you make it easier for them to identify you and add whatever you were looking at to your dossier. If you want to be a little less Internet stalked, avoid being signed in anywhere and clear your cookies and browser history on a regular basis. You can also use an ad blocker, cookie blockers, and Facebook Disconnect to lower your footprint.

      1. I realize that sounds a bit alarmist, but more or less the worst thing that happens is what’s already happening: data is being collected on you because targeted advertising is big business as it generates more clicks than random ads do.

          1. When I got tired of it, I started filling my browsers up with add ons to keep things… tidy. But without knowing how Rose feels about the tracking or her comfort level when it comes to using add ons I didn’t want to suggest anything. Especially since it can create a situation where you need a ‘dirty’ browser to do things your secure browser won’t allow.

    5. I read that as ‘babesrus’ 😉

      Which might fit with all the emails I get from amorously unattached russian ladies waiting to make my acquaintance. Not to mention all the kindly offers of Viagra at competitive rates. (If I took cognisance of the first category I’d certainly need to take up the second).

      Actually I’m not sure whether Viagra spam is complimentary (‘with your lifestyle you need this stuff’) or insulting (‘you’re a broken-down old has-been’).

      Anyway, my PC thinks I’m a sex fiend. I have no idea which site I visited to give it that impression.


  6. There was a twitter feed called @SavedYouAClick that used to help with this kind of thing, but sadly its quality deteriorated.

  7. I was looking for the best series available on Netflix, and found top 50 Netflix series. Each show has it’s own page, and you click next to get to the next. They didn’t even have a show description beyond a short caption for the picture. Even if they had 5 per page, and an actual review I might have stuck around, but they lost me immediately.

    1. I use various ad-blockers (uBlock seems good, as is Ghostery) and now get sites telling me that I have those blockers in place so would I like to make a donation instead?

      Unfortunately a lot of the ‘free’ stuff is only free because it is funded by advertising… and eventually many sites become primarily money earning publications to the detriment of content. Much like newspapers and TV really.

  8. You could always clickbaitify your post headlines, too, you know. For example:
    “Researchers Were Shocked To Find This In The DNA of Holocaust Survivors”
    “ISIS’ Rape And Slavery Made Legal Thanks To This Brilliant Trick”
    “What Scientists Don’t Want You To Know About Autism Pandemic”.

    1. Confession time: I sometimes re-write Jerry’s headlines when I tw**t his stuff to make it more likely people will click on the link.

      I don’t make them into click bait though, I write what I think better informs people. We know what Jerry means by “More osculation,” but others don’t. And for ‘Readers’ Wildlife Photos’ I add what’s actually in the photos, or even leave out the RWP part altogether to leave more room for the description. So I might tw**t, something like, ‘Readers’ Wildlife Photos: Beautiful South American Hummingbirds’, instead of the original.

    2. You’ve given away all their wording secrets. I’ll look forward to big changes in the immediate future.

      1. Reading the clickbait headlines, I’m getting the impression that you would want to use the simplest yet strongest words. Maybe like this: “Lose belly fat with this easy butt-polishing exercise”.

    1. Right. In general, depending on body chemistry, climate, and work stress, I think that as long as a person showers every day, applied deodorant is unnecessary.

  9. Here is one weird trick to make your deodorant more effective! Apply it at night, not in the morning! I think I clicked on that at Buzz Feed or Salon or someplace. But I never tried it–hard enough to remember to brush.

  10. I sometimes go without deodorant for a while,(shocking, I know. Now the ugly truth can be revealed.) No one ever staggers away gasping for breath. I do wash frequently, but don’t shower daily either. Saving water and my skin which is dry and doesn’t like to be drier. In the air-conditioned world I live and work in, sweating is rare.
    If I do work up a sweat, as can happen, I do shower, just so you know.

    1. In a world of scarce resources (either now, or later) we should ideally not shower or bathe on a daily basis but only when we need to. But that requires conscious thought rather than stumbling around following a routine.

      Similarly we shouldn’t flush the toilet every time (If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down).

      There are many parts of the world that don’t even reach this level of convenience…

  11. I’m also a soap and water only boy. No one has complained yet.
    Body odor has something to do with diet. I once worked with a Korean woman who must have regularly partaken of an about of garlic that would kill a lab rat. Fortunately, I did not have to spend too much time in close quarters. In that case I don’t think deodorant would have made any difference.

  12. It saddens me to think that piggish frat boys and men’s rights activists will probably start rating women’s photographs according to a “Lexi Novak scale” of how many days into a deodorant-free week they would consider everything still good to go.

  13. …about ten times what I get for a science post on this site

    But that commentariat includes all the unwashed. At best only probably only ~10% of the populace is scientifically literate, so the numbers here may be about on par.

  14. Deodorant detox! Give me strength.

    Besides, anti-perspirant is the thing that is it! I don’t smell so bad but I sweat a lot.

    1. Yeah I get that. Sweating a lot, I mean. It happens almost randomly (though quite often coffee brings it on / exacerbates it).

      But – ummm, absolutely no offense intended – how can one conclude that one ‘doesn’t smell so bad’. (I’m NOT saying you do!, just querying how you know). I think most people are ‘used to’ their own smell, so it appears normal to them, so they can never tell.


      1. Speaking for myself, I am not a fan of my own funk.. since bacteria are involved. Sweat on it’s own can’t be that bad can it??
        I marvel at the fact that our bodies are filled with all manner of stuff/bacteria and yet the skin manages to keep it all in..

        1. That suggests a nightmare sci-fi-horror senario: The skin-eating bacteria.
          The results would be truly horrific.


      2. I whiff myself really hard. It’s rare that I have strong body odour. I just have never really smelled bad with excessive sweating (which I do a lot).

        1. I expect you’re probably right.

          My hairsplitting gene compels me to note that, as with some chemical smells, when one is habituated one can’t smell them. From Derek Lowe’s incomparable blog Things I Won’t Work With:
          “Two of our chemists who had done no more than investigate the cracking of minute amounts of trithioacetone found themselves the object of hostile stares in a restaurant and suffered the humiliation of having a waitress spray the area around them with a deodorant.”

          From the context, the chemists couldn’t smell it themselves.

          (Apologies, it isn’t my intention to make you paranoid 😉


          1. I can smell it if I smell bad like unusually stinky feet but I’ve asked people who would honestly tell me if I smelled and I haven’t. Once was when I had a sinus infection and thought the smell was me.

            1. (Your little avatar-thingy has changed, by the way)

              I’ve had the same worry occasionally if the train to work has been exceptionally full (e.g. the previous train got cancelled). But I’ve rarely had the nerve to ask anyone else to judge. Fortunately for me our cubicles are fairly well separated.


  15. I don’t comment on the site usually because the effort to do so on mobile is too much in the time I typically have even I’m reading. However I do read every word of your science posts and usually skip the non-science posts. Then I talk incessantly about rider science posts to everyone around me for the rest of the day.

    I know how thankless it is to spend so much time putting those articles together but I’m glad you do.

    This is likely to be my last comment for a while because I’ve had to correct my auto correct on virtually every word and I’m ready to throw my phone in the river.

  16. As much as I hate click-bait headlines, for some reason I’m enraged even more by web sites formatted to maximize clicking.
    That is, when an article that could easily
    be presented in a single page is cut up into
    tiny bits so that you have to keep clicking “next page” to read it. An enragingly transparent sacrifice of ergonomics for the aim of being able to present new adds on each new page.

    (And, in fact, this was happening even before it became common place in the internet. Many of the more popular magazines had sacrificed readability for advertising long ago, where you open the magazine and can not even find the contents page for all the adds, then find part one of the contents page and have to search through more add pages to find the next, more add pages to even see where any content begins in the magazine. It is such a shocking thumbing-of-the-nose at reader friendliness for advertising I’ve literally given up sometimes even trying to get to the contents of these magazines).

  17. why is this shocking? American culture produced ‘reality tv’ stars, full of incestuous over-breeding duggards and the like. This no-deodorant thing is pretty mild compared to the other stuff out there.

Leave a Reply