‘Lionel Messi Is Impossible’

That’s the actual headline for this piece by Benjamin Morris for FiveThirtyEight. I saw it yesterday on Twitter, and skipped it, because of the hyperbolic absurdity. Lionel Messi is not impossible; he exists. I’d have clicked if the headline had even been something like “Lionel Messi Is Seemingly Impossible”.

I read it today, though, after Kottke linked it. Kottke I trust. But if he hadn’t linked it, I wouldn’t have read it, because when I saw it yesterday, I figured it was a bullshit article because of its headline. And I’m glad I read it, because it’s a fascinating and extraordinarily well-researched piece on the man who is very clearly the best soccer player in the world today.

There’s a boy-who-cried-wolf aspect to the modern art of click-bait headline writing. There are certain patterns that emerge, which I’m sure are statistically shown to work. For example, listicles typically no longer use round numbers like 5, 10, 15, 20 — instead, you see things like “17 Gay Celebs Who Pretend to Be Straight on TV” and “17 Facts That Will Forever Change the Way You Look at These Famous People”. (I didn’t make those up, I saw both of those today in the scammy Taboola links beneath an article on TPM.) I’m sure these tricks work, that there’s all sorts of analytics data that shows it — but no trick works forever. People inevitably catch on.

Thursday, 3 July 2014