Sorry I've been so absent from the discussion. Let me try to give an overview of why linkbait is different from past tpes of "worthy content that gets natural links."
Please know that this is my own, unique, internal definition of linkbait, and applies to how I use it for customers and contracts, and not neccessarily how everyone else describes it - which can sometimes be as broad as anything that "baits" a single person or a couple folks into linking.
"My Linkbait" takes specific advantage of the linking market on the web - not the folks in your particular industry, who may take a very long time to find and link to you, but the players who are exceptionally active in linking to tech/webdev based work. That's why I mentioned the blogs like boing boing, lifehacker, etc.
There is a monumental community of linkers on the web who are excited about the "new" concepts of web 2.0, community on the web, mashups, APIs, RSS integration and other piece of technology that are emergent and "cool". These folks will link to this sort of content, virtually regardless of the technical subject matter, as long as it plays to their market, which includes:
- CSS sites (they all click view source and shake their head at tables - which I personally like for many parts of webdev, but with linkbait, you gotta go with what works)
- Sites with that "certain look" (I call it the "web 2.0 look", but if you're curious about what I mean, just check out http://thesis.veracon.net/)
- Applications that mix Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps with clever bits of information to create a custom mashup - Frappr is one of them, http://www.runningmap.com/
is another good example and there's a whole blog about them here - http://googlemapsmania.blogspot.com/
- RSS delivered information is hot, though it's losing its pure link appeal - you can still get link love if you issue feeds of the right kinds of data, though - especially if it converts previously non-RSS data to the format (like crimes in a city or home closings in your county or new apartment listings on Craigslist - they've already done that but you get the idea)
It's a sad state of the industry when "compelling content" and "giving people a reaon to link to your site" are ideas that are virtually ignored until someone gives it a sleazy name like "link bait".
Scottie, I'd say that although it sounds sleazy, it's really just a way of re-targeting good content at a population on the web who's likely to link to it. I have clients in the fine art world, and there's not a whole lot of daily bloggers interested in their artists, yet. But, if I create content that includes those artists and their work and target it towards the link-friendly tech community, I've created linkbait - is it manipulative?
I don't really think so - they're only linking if they think it's really something special and cool and enjoy using it. The fact that I'm doing it with the intent of getting links and not just to provide something cool is simply my way of paying for development without having to charge folks to use it. The "abuse" of linkbait will only result in lots of cool content and lots of "failed" semi-cool content (that took a lot of development time). It's not something that's too ripe for abuse because the bloggers and taggers aren't going to be linking if they don't love it.
Is it a new concept? Not really, but the rules are changing and the way to stay on top of it has changed. 5-6 years ago, very cool looking Flash sites were getting these types of links. 2-3 years ago, java applets and online games were getting them in droves. Today, AJAX, CSS, APIs and Maps are hot. Tomorrow it will be something else. The point is to tailor your site's content (and you don't have to do the whole site, just one page is fine) to the current link community's whims. It's a way to jump ahead of the pack and get massive amounts of branding and visibility. I note that some of our linkbait pieces received 50,000+ visitors in a month and 2,000+ links.
Hope that helps to make it a little clearer what I mean.