Journalists Worried About Content Farms Are Missing The Point: The Web Has Always Been Filled With Crap

from the stop-worrying-about-what-others-are-doing dept

There's been a lot of fretting lately in the journalism field about the rise of so-called "content farms." These are operations like Demand Media or Associated Content (recently purchased by Yahoo) or even AOL's "Seed" experiment, that focus on generating a ton of content at very low cost, mostly aimed at ranking high on search engines. Last year, Wired Magazine ran a pretty good story covering the details of this particular business model. Basically, you find really cheap freelancers, tell them to quickly write up content on "popular" topics, pay them very, very little and don't worry too much about quality. The whole point is to rank high in search engines when people search on various topics.

Not surprisingly, this state of affairs worries some journalists who fear that these "content farms" are "killing" journalism. In fact, a group of online content syndicators are even talking about setting up an official "online quality" standards guidelines for internet content, even to the point of considering "accrediting" whatever is considered "quality" journalism.

I certainly understand and recognize the concern. When you look at much of the content produced by these content farms (and it's certainly worth pointing out that these operations deny the whole "content farm" claim -- as well as the insinuation that their content is bad), it's hard not to quickly recognize that much of the content is really, really bad. It's not well written. It's not very thorough. It's often not very accurate or useful. But, even given all of that, the "concerns" that this is somehow harming journalism seem wildly overblown.

The internet has always been filled with a lot more crappy content than good content. That's what every internet-hater points out first. But that's always been a search and filter problem. Bad content does not directly impact good content unless you become obsessed over the fact that some people are reading the bad content over your good content. In the early days, it's why sites like Yahoo developed in the first place: as a directory to try to help you find the good content instead of the crappy content (so, yeah, Yahoo buying a content farm is a bit ironic). And when the concept of "directories" became overwhelmed, we moved onto search, mostly based on things like metatags. And when that got gamed to death such that crappy content crowded out the ability to find good content, we moved on to much better search algorithms, like those found at Google, which tried to solve that basic problem.

The situation that we're in right now is one where the current filtering mechanisms might not yet be good enough to distinguish quality content from crappy content. But that's a temporary state of affairs. On top of that, one person's crappy content may be good enough for whatever it is they're trying to do or understand. There is no rule that says the best quality content has to win. For those of us who like quality content (and, every so often, try to produce it), it may be painful to hear that, but welcome to the competitive marketplace. If someone's serving the need better than you, then that's the market you deal with. It doesn't mean that quality content producers should crappify their content, but it might mean they need to rethink some aspects of what they're doing -- such as not relying on crappy filters as the source of your traffic.

It's that last point that highlights the real "problem" that journalists seem to have with these content farms. The journalists have become so convinced that Google is where they need to get all their traffic, that when Google ranks web farm content higher, that's somehow the fault of the content farms. In reality, it means that relying on Google for traffic may be a mistake. Quality content is hard to figure out algorithmically, though my guess is that Google is working on this issue all the time. If Google starts realizing that people do, in fact, find content farm content to be useless, that content will eventually get rated down, no matter how much they try to play SEO games.

But, even beyond that, the way people discover and consume higher quality content is changing as well. The value of "passed" or "earned" links -- i.e., links that are sent around via email or social networks -- is growing rapidly, and that's the sort of filter that tends to focus more on "better" content, rather than pure content farm content. So, in the end, this seems like a "problem" that corrects itself over time. Sure, right now, these content farms are good at getting their content seen. But if that content really isn't that useful, the rest of the market will adapt and adjust.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 9:24am

    it means that relying on Google for traffic may be a mistake

    Wait, I thought mike was a Google shill. My world is going upside-down!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 9:25am

    as always mike, you miss the point: if you pile the sh*t high enough, the good stuff no longer pokes out above it. people make millions (maybe billions) of searches every day, and if those searches only point to the sh*t, then the value is lost. there is no initial "finder" to spread the word.

    worse yet, it means that people with bully pulpits (like this blog) with an existing audience can push their point of view as "good" and not mention the bad (and leave out important facts, like someone's pirate party affiliation!). it means that the overall size of the information pool drops, at least from what an individual might see.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 9:29am

    Re:

    As usual, TAM provides an irrelevant hypothetical with no evidence.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 9:31am

    Re:

    Once again, TAM has no grasp of reality.

    Search engines are specifically designed so that the "sh*t" doesn't get piled up at all. It gets buried where no one ever notices it.

    If your site never gets looked at outside of search engines traffic, then no one wants it anyway.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 9:32am

    Re: Re:

    as usual, mikes paid shout down crew adds nothing to the discussion. are you a member of the pirate party in hiding too?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Jul 9th, 2010 @ 9:37am

    Buying the farm

    Gee, all I wanted to do was put in that Yahoo bought the farm a long time ago. I really hate to derail eetroll's thread though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jul 9th, 2010 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Waitaminute! The rest of these guys are getting paid!?

    Mike, where's my check!?


    Oh well, in the meantime, Sturgeon's Law is pretty universal.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    ReallyEvilCanine, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 9:50am

    Copy editor

    You could use one, Mike. How's two bucks per story (tree-fitty for those long ones) grab you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 10:20am

    "an official "online quality" standards guidelines for internet content"

    Instead of complaining about the alleged problem why not start your own content directory or search engine that follows your own standards. If it's really useful people will naturally switch to it.

    but please, don't get our broken government involved, it will only continue to serve the interests of our existing plutocracy like it always does. If there is one thing our govt has demonstrated it's that it doesn't know how to do anything else. 95 year copy protection length anyone?

    "Added Zinn: “I’m not certain of the quality of some of the content out there. I don’t want to sponsor content that was produced by someone who doesn't even have a high school education.”"

    That sounds rather condescending. What, only the opinions of "educated" people count? No one else’s opinion counts?

    Perhaps additional search options where we can select to either view any content or we can select minimum/maximum educational level requirements. The default settings, though, should not consider educational level as a factor and should return results similar to those that they currently return. I don’t want search engines turning into some sort of aristocracy. Those who are concerned about educational level, like you, can tinker with the options. I'm all for more options but I'm also for non-discriminating default options. Content shouldn’t, by default, be judged on the educational level of the author but it should be judged on the merits of its logic/quality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 10:23am

    "an official "online quality" standards guidelines for internet content"

    Instead of complaining about the alleged problem why not start your own

    content directory or search engine that follows your own standards. If it's

    really useful people will naturally switch to it.

    but please, don't get our broken government involved, it will only continue

    to serve the interests of our existing plutocracy like it always does. If

    there is one thing our govt has demonstrated it's that it doesn't know how to

    do anything else. 95 year copy protection length anyone?

    "Added Zinn: “I’m not certain of the quality of some of the content out

    there. I don’t want to sponsor content that was produced by someone who

    doesn't even have a high school education.”"

    That sounds rather condescending. What, only the opinions of "educated"

    people count? No one else’s opinion counts?

    Perhaps additional search options where we can select to either view any

    content or we can select minimum/maximum educational level requirements. The

    default settings, though, should not consider educational level as a factor

    and should return results similar to those that they currently return. I

    don’t want search engines turning into some sort of aristocracy. Those who

    are concerned about educational level, like you, can tinker with the options.

    I'm all for more options but I'm also for non-discriminating default options.

    Content shouldn’t, by default, be judged on the educational level of the

    author but it should be judged on the merits of its logic/quality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 10:41am

    Re:

    "worse yet, it means that people with bully pulpits (like this blog) with an existing audience can push their point of view as "good" and not mention the bad "

    Yes, because this is the only Internet website I can visit.

    With the MSM, however, many people have very limited options (outside the Internet) whenever the MSM decides to only present one side of the issue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 10:41am

    Re:

    "worse yet, it means that people with bully pulpits (like this blog) with an existing audience can push their point of view as "good" and not mention the bad "

    Yes, because this is the only Internet website I can visit.

    With the MSM, however, many people have very limited options (outside the Internet) whenever the MSM decides to only present one side of the issue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    ReallyEvilCanine, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 10:49am

    Where's my cash?

    The sad thing is that you're not even a half-decent troll, just a terribly boring wannabe.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 11:02am

    Re:

    and besides, no one is preventing you from presenting your point of view in the comments, so I don't know what you are complaining about.

    BTW, sorry about all the double posts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 9th, 2010 @ 11:33am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Uh, well I'm certainly not on the TD payroll, AND I had my own philosophical issue with the post you're referring to, but your gleefully repeating this single "gotch'ya" point over and over again is not compelling. It's clear you're attempting to use a single instance to denegrate an entire body of work, which is....well....kind of pathetic.

    Or am I on the payroll as well?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 1:59pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "It's clear you're attempting to use a single instance to denegrate an entire body of work, which is....well....kind of pathetic." - yet mike does that on a regular basis, bringing up errors or positions taken(that mike does not like) in the past and clubbing them over the head like baby seals.

    it is also keeping in the spirit of this post. in order to avoid the error sinking into the muck and mire of the internet, it needs to be pointed to time and again in the public space.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re:

    how did you find out about the other websites you visit? a friend? perhaps you saw a link on a blog site you visit, like this one. hmmm... think about it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 2:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    you have to post anonymously to get paid. as soon as you log in with an id, you cannot do the work anymore.

    so did you agree with mike on not mentioning the pirate party in the other article?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 9th, 2010 @ 2:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You can read my response there. No need to bring it up here....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 2:18pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    What?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 2:19pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    So your point is that I found out about other websites. Well, duh. That's the point Mike is trying to make, that these silly standards aren't necessary and will only get in our way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2010 @ 6:03pm

    Well the big issue with content farms is that newspapers like USA Today and the Atlanta Journal Constitution are partnering with these content farms, thereby decreasing the journalistic value of those institutions. Hopefully it will be a matter of who cares, and those papers will die anyway for making dumb decisions. But my fear is they will all go this way, and that would be devastating to journalism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 10th, 2010 @ 1:00am

    Re:

    "bully pulpits"

    You truly are pathetic. Once, just once, it would be nice for you to bring up a salient point that's not a thinly veiled attack or just realise that nobody forces you to come here.

    But, no, everybody who disagrees with you has to be a paid shill. Utterly pathetic.

    As for the pirate party thing, I'm not reading back through every post just to find which one you're blathering on about, but I'm going to assume that you made an uncited claim and are then complaining that Mike didn't fact check it in 5 minutes. Prove me wrong, but that's generally the way you work - make incorrect and/or unproven claims and then jump to the next thread when someone proves you wrong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 10th, 2010 @ 1:15am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Wow, so you think that the only reason somebody who frequents this blog would discover another website is if Mike linked to it? I'll repeat - you are truly pathetic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2010 @ 4:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "you have to post anonymously to get paid."

    The irony is awesome. Thanks TAM.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2010 @ 4:22pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    As usual, TAM reverts to conspiracy and paranoia when he cannot defend his flawed arguments.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2010 @ 4:24pm

    Re:

    To be fair, I'm not the sure that USA Today ever really had much journalistic value.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jul 12th, 2010 @ 1:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Waitaminute! Are YOU getting paid!?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Geoff Samek (profile), Jul 22nd, 2010 @ 5:42pm

    Longevity of content farm model

    I always find business models interesting when they are based on the potential actions of a single company. What if Google decided to not search/index any demand media content?

    Secondly I would add to the argument that there has always been bad content on the web. The content my hometown newspaper (The Sacramento Bee) produces is nearly mutually exclusive to what is on Demand Media produces. Local politics and local journalism of all types is rarely something that is covered by content farms such as Demand Media.

    The bottom-line is that, practically speaking, I have never had content farm articles crowd out any search I have ever done for news.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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