Various talkback contributors have at times accused me of writing headlines and blogs purely to provoke page reads. Most of the time I dismiss those as ad hominem attacks committed out of ignorance and frustration.
Sometimes, however, I wonder where the boundary really is between understanding what readers are likely to be interested in and pandering to the masses.
Pandering, aka trolling for page hits, is actually pretty easy: just set reality aside to continually assure readers that their most cherished, and wrong, beliefs are actually correct. Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance gives the theoretical basis for this because he was able to show that the more questionable the delusion, the more actively its adherents seek out and distribute confirmatory information. In other words, an article assuring the technically illiterate that Intel CPUs are somehow preferable to those based on SPARC or PPC designs is guaranteed to draw many times the page hits attracted by one telling the truth: that Intel isn't even in the ballgame right now.
For example, Dan Frakes at Macworld.com recently felt compelled to compare a MacBook Pro to an over configured Dell Inspiron - and found the Inspiron to be both a lesser machine and more expensive - but he did that in response to a page burner by zdnet's own George Ou under the jaw dropping title: "'Dude'! The Mac Duo is $1000 more!".
George got a lot more page reads, but Dan got it right - and that's the fundamental issue right there. Trolling for hits is easy, all the writer has to do is find a handy hook on which to hang confirmatory nonsense and leave it to the true believers to spread the word. In contrast, getting it right is hard work - and often high risk too because trying to get things right means sometimes getting them wrong.
The other problem with trolling for page hits is that this is a classic slippery slope in which the first step is a already a step too far. Thus Steve Jack, writing on Macdailynews.com under the title Dell laptop ads attempt to co-opt Apple's Mac OS X asks precisely the right question:
Exactly where is the level where shame is felt from these soulless Wintel creeps or have they just all passed the threshold so long ago that they've lost all concept of shame, disgrace, and embarrassment?
Start down this path in searching for page hits and pretty soon you've become one of those "soulless creeps".
So what's the alternative?
Here's what I do: I troll shamelessly, but for talkbacks, not page hits. It's talkbacks that make this blogging business fun, and if there's a million flakes out there who know that clicking on my blog won't make them feel better about their own decisions to get along by going along? Well, too bad - I'd rather get a sensible talkback complaining that I'm smearing all Wintel bigots with the same brush again than cater to them.