The Upworthy headlines will find you. In tweets, in emails, in wall posts from well-meaning family: Viral Headline English, with its blithe incredulity, will hunt you down, and you won’t believe the absolutely incredible thing that happens next. OMG.
Well, what you can’t beat, change.
Alison Gianotto a New York-based developer better known as snipe, has given users a way to hide from the madness. Her plug-in for Chrome, called Downworthy, translates certain common words in viral headlines to their more accurate equivalent.
“Literally” becomes “Figuratively.”
“Incredible” becomes “Painfully Ordinary.”
And my favorite: “Will Blow Your Mind” becomes “Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment.”
We’ll get to the absolutely mind-blowing results in a minute. First, it’s worth noting that Snipe’s extension plays on a key feature of the web. While browsers load the pages that servers send to them, they can be told to ignore or change some elements. In other words, users can play defense with HTML. The process is known as “augmented browsing.”
Though coined as a phrase in 1997, augmented browsing became easy in 2005 with the release of the Greasemonkey plug-in for Firefox. Greasemonkey let users run and manage website-specific scripts—they could change how IMDB looked, for example. This kind of user-side modding, once rare, is now widespread. If you’re using ad-blocking software, you’re browsing an augmented web right now.
Snipe’s extension does its job, especially on the social aggregator ViralNova. After Downworthy does its thing, “This Grandma’s Friends Laughed At Her Idea. But What She Did In Her Shed Is Awesome.” becomes
And it even works on Facebook:
(A side note: It turns out Upworthy’s headlines themselves aren’t predictable or formulaic enough to produce interesting results with the plug-in.)
In her acknowledgments, Snipe thanked two other developers who wielded plug-ins to make a point or draw a laugh. Danielle Sucher’s swaps all gender pronouns. And Steven Frank’s popular cloud-to-butt converter replaces every mention of “the cloud” with—what else?—“my butt.”
These extensions: They’re little jokes, written in code and executed on the unsuspecting and unaware—like, say, Bloomberg Businessweek: