Screenshot via Upworthy
Like lampreys on sharks, giant isopods on whales, or those weird dog-monster things from Cloverfield that fell off the monster and bit Lizzy Caplan, so certain buzz-chasing websites latch on to internet behemoths, trying to ride the momentum and hide in the loopholes of the major players in attempts to reach profitability. However, like other parasites, their life-cycles are often more irritating (and more brief) than one would think, rising and falling while the rest of the internet moves on.
The latest website to enter the end-stages of this cycle is Upworthy, which was, until recently, the undisputed alpha predator of clickbait. However, according the Awl, Upworthy's unique visitors are down to 20 million from it's peak of 50 million. They recently laid off some staff and are switching to a business model that includes "the production of original content," which is ironic for a company that rose to fame by repackaging the work of others.
Why is Upworthy crashing? It's a little complicated, but it's basically because Facebook decided to do two things: First, it de-emphasized clickbait articles in its news feed, and second, it decided to host videos itself instead of just linking to them. Upworthy lived in that space where a friend would post a buzzily-titled link to their content on social media (their 'content' usually being embedded video from YouTube), leading to clicks on that link and time spent on Upworthy's site. But Facebook changed their news feed slightly, and Upworthy's niche has basically been eliminated.
Screenshot via ViralNova.com
Rising to take up Upworhty's mantle is the site ViralNova.com. It has been called one of the "worst sites on the internet" for its ability to chase virality and shareability with a shamelessness that makes Upworthy seem almost restrained. Where Upworthy's content was usually directed towards liberals and progressives, ViralNova is for everyone, with content titles such as "This Old Couple Tragically Died in a Car Accident. But What Rescuers Found Inside Was Beautiful," and "I've Never Seen Anything So Heartbreaking In My Life. But It's Completely Beautiful At The Same Time," that just begs all people, from your hippie aunt to your conservative uncle, to click.
Yes, ViralNova may be in ascension, but one wonders what future algorithm adjustment from Google or Facebook or Twitter will bring the site to its knees. The thing is, this phenomenon isn't just about websites that deliver clickbait-y content. Anytime you have a multi-billion dollar company with millions of users, it will inevitably create secondary businesses attempting to get a piece of the pie.
Search engine optimization is, at its core, an entire mini-industry based on getting Google to like you, and its players rise and fall with tweaks to the Google algorithm. Apple's massive size and cultural cache has lead to not just faked products, but entire faked Apple stores in China. The recent revolt over alleged censorship at 'front page of the internet' Reddit has lead many users to migrate to the more-permissive site Voat.co, which is just a clone of Reddit.
The internet is its own ecosystem, which all sorts of sites and businesses both great and small. We shouldn't be surprised that such a living, breathing system has parasites.