Pretend That Viral Content is a New York Times Story

Timesify team wins Comedy Hack Day

Timesify team members, Dustin Luke Nelson, Esteban Pastorino and Daniel Fenjves, celebrate with the judges (<em>Photo via Comedy Hack</em>)

Timesify, an app that disguises even the stupidest blog post to make it look like a New York Times story, won the top prize at Comedy Hack Day, a weekend-long hackathon held this past weekend.

“Timesify takes articles from your favorite sites like Gawker and The Onion and gives them the appearance of being The New York Times,” Timesify team presenter Dustin Luke Nelson said during the demo, to cheers and laughter from the audience.

By putting a Timesify button on your browser and clicking it when you open up a blog post you actually want to read, you can fool people into thinking you read the Times without having to go through the trouble of reading it. Mr. Nelson opened a Gawker story about a mom in Florida who kidnapped her kid. “I want to read this,” he said. “But I don’t want you to know I want to read this.”

The headline from the Gawker story changed from “Florida Mom Kidnaps Daughter to Avoid Vaccines, Learning Black History” to “Obama Pushes Iraqis to Mend Sectarian Rifts.” The accompanying photo became Senator Lindsey Graham instead of a selfie of the 22-year-old Floridian mother. The font mimicked a Times story, but the actual content remained.

So when is this useful? Say you work at a startup, Mr. Nelson explained to the techie audience and comedian judges, and you want to impress the new “super-cute” girl who sits behind you. She seems really smart (unlike you, she knows that Monsanto is not an Indie band, for example). This girl won’t be impressed by watching you read about the latest celebrity nip-slip.

That’s where Timesify comes in. But what if someone asks you about the actual article? Oh, that’s taken care of. There’s a quick bullet point about the Times story at the top so you can sound semi-knowledgable about Iraq without actually knowing anything.

“You don’t want to project the idea that you are like a TMZ guy,” Mr. Nelson told the Observer. “You want people to think you read serious stories.”

When asked, readers will claim that they want to read serious, hard news, as Derek Thompson explained in The Atlantic this week. But if you watch what they read, it’s mostly fluffy entertainment. And now, people can pretend that those stories are serious while actually enjoying some aggregated candy.

“I was surprised by how many people took it seriously and said they would actually use it,” Mr. Nelson said, adding that he thought of it as a joke. The point of the hackathon, after all, was comedy.

Sure, Timesify’s popularity may signal that our culture is collapsing around us. But at least people still are embarrassed enough to want to pretend they read hard news. That’s something, right?