Subtitle: Trolling for Page Views
I have a a variety of Google alerts that I keep running all the time for projects I’m involved with. It’s a great way to know about articles and blog posts about your films and to see where things are popping up on the great wide internets. One of the things that you find if you do this is that a huge number of sites out there are really just reposting other people’s content or synopsizing it and providing a link through. These sites are based totally on the premise that if they get enough page views, regardless of the quality, that they’ll make a few pennies from the ads they post. For example, we had a post in Variety a few weeks ago about one of our projects and like clockwork, after it went up there was a raft of google alerts (I actually have them come through once a day in a combined email, but none-the-less…) that were all referencing the same piece on a host of shady (and sometimes not-so-shady) sites.
But recently I starting getting weird alerts that were pointing me to one specific blog at indieWIRE called The Playlist. Let me state up front, I am a big supporter of Brian and the whole team at indieWIRE (and their parent, Snag films). They do good work in covering the independent film world and host a legion of vital blogs. If you don’t read them and you’re in independent film, then you should start.
That being said, I still was confused. I am producing a film called RETURN which stars Linda Cardellini and Michael Shannon, among others. I had set up an alert a while ago that would let me know anytime a page referenced “Linda Cardellini” and “Michael Shannon” on the theory that the word “return” is far too common to return only things related to my project when connected with either actor, but that since RETURN is the only project that has those two actors both in it, any page that references both of them would relate to our film. There are sites that still show up that don’t have anything to do with what I’m looking for and they do this by including on their site every conceivable actor on every page, often in the invisible html code that Google crawls but you don’t see, in the hopes that people will visit that page looking for information about those actors. What surprised me was when I got this Google alert today:
New Look At James Gunn’s ‘Super,’ Film Hits Theaters On April 1 …
Michael Gambon (1). Michael Pena (1). Michael Shannon (1) …… Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion and Linda Cardellini, and follows the …
Now that links through to a nice article about James Gunn’s SUPER, which is coming out on April 1st, on the indieWIRE hosted blog The Playlist. The article has the following sentence:
The film, which premiered to strong buzz as part of TIFF‘s Midnight Madness lineup this past September, stars Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion and Linda Cardellini, and follows the story of an average guy (Wilson)…
Ok, so the article references Linda. But what was that thing about “Michael Shannon (1)”? Or Michael Gambon and Michael Pena? I did a ‘find’ on the page to see if Michael Shannon was referenced – thinking perhaps The Playlist mentioned that Linda will also be appearing in our film with Michael – but nothing came up. So I went back and looked at the Google alert again. It looked and felt like one of those page-view seeking sites, so I tried something else. I went back to the indieWIRE page and viewed the source code for the page (most browsers will let you do this from within the browser). Doing a ‘find’ for Michael Shannon again revealed a surprise. There is a section on every page of The Playlist that has, hidden in its code, over 2,200 different actors, writers, directors, and film names. Either this is poor coding in the extreme or a crude attempt at link bait. They want people to stumble across their site by tricking them into thinking they are going to find one thing (in this case an article about Linda & Michael) and, in fact, they will find an article about something else. While this may garner page views it is a crappy way to run a site and reflects poorly on The Playlist and, as their host, indieWIRE.
I should state very clearly that this appears to only affect The Playlist and nothing else at indieWIRE. I checked several other of their blogs and their main site itself and there is nothing like this anywhere. I bring this up as I suspect indieWIRE’s own staff may not even know that this is what’s happening and perhaps should be aware.
Update – December 1, 6:50PM:
The guys from The Playlist responded to this. It seems it’s just bad code. Here was their tweet to me:
@noahharlan not a conspiracy friend. We asked categories to be turned off. Might have created some other issues, but not intentional.