I had an interesting conversation last night about headlines. It started when someone made the observation that the headlines at the Huffington Post were increasingly misleading. Users were beginning to get frustrated when they click through to a story that turned out to be different than expected. As we dug into it, we decided that it was an artifact of the editorial process at the HuffPo. Headlines compete in a Darwinian process for space and time on the homepage in part based on the number of readers who click through, so editors are incented to bait and switch.
The knee jerk reaction to this problem would be to bring back human editorial control to improve the user’s experience, but that may not be necessary. In the same conversation, an editor at HuffPo and one at ABCNews.com confirmed that passed links are their fastest growing source of traffic. A HuffPo editor might be able to fool a reader into clicking through but the people you follow on Twitter are only going to recommend articles of substance.