Monday, May 17, 2010

Provocative Headlines and Computer Algorithms

David Carr has a thought-provoking, entertaining article in The New York Times about headlines that search engine optimization (S.E.O.) seems to favor. In the article, he has some provocative headlines and some background as to how the new media seeks to capture readers' attention and how headlines of Internet stories move to the top of searches, which are the results of computer algorithms (something we as operations researchers or computer scientists know a lot about).

According to Arianna Huffington, the Editor of The Huffington Post:

“We do ironic headlines, smart headlines, and work hard to make very serious stories as interesting as we can.” “We pride ourselves on bringing in our community on which headlines work best.”

Some dumbing down of Internet article headlines is inevitable, since short, punchy, catchy phrases appear to "attract" the search engines' "attention," as do names of celebrities and those in power or whoever is "the flavor du jour." As David Carr muses: it leads to a sameness that can make all the information seem as if it were generated by the same traffic-loving robot.

We are living in an era of short-term gain, in which the creation of works that will last, be they in scholarship, science, literature, art, music, etc., are not as well-recognized (the same goes for the sustained effort required of such creations). To construct works of lasting value one needs persistent, consistent labor over time, and a deep focus and attention span. But, then again, many of the greats did not get their recognized due until they were long gone. Their rewards came from their internal need and drive to innovate and to use their imagination in novel ways.