Reinventing the Newsroom

The Furor Over Content Farms

Posted in Content Farms, Social Search by reinventingthenewsroom on December 15, 2009

I’m glad to see I’m not alone — the agitation over content farms (my term was vapidmedia) is increasing among digital-media thinkers. Here’s a rundown of recent takes on the issue, what it means, and what — if anything — should or can be done about it. To reiterate my point of view: I don’t think Demand and other vapidmedia mills deliberately try to produce low-quality content, but I think their business models virtually ensure that they will do so. Nor is my primary objection that they turn content creators into Chinese factory workers. I don’t like that, but if the market wills it, so be it. Rather, my primary objection is that vapidmedia clutters up search with low-quality content designed to game Google’s algorithms, making better-quality information harder to find.

To review, the article that kicked the issue into high gear is Dan Roth’s Wired magazine profile of Demand Media. A related piece is Farhad Manjoo’s takedown of Associated Content, from Slate. (Richard McManus of ReadWriteWeb has also penned two good investigations of Demand Media.)

Here’s the fusillade I wrote about Demand Media after reading those two articles.

What’s new: Over the weekend TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington waded into the fray, warning that “I think there’s a much bigger problem lurking on the horizon than a bunch of blogs and aggregators disrupting old media business models that needed disrupting anyway. The rise of fast food content is upon us, and it’s going to get ugly. … These models create a race to the bottom situation, where anyone who spends time and effort on their content is pushed out of business.” Arrington’s conclusion is dour: Content creators need to “figure out an even more disruptive way to win, or die. Or just give up on making money doing what you do.”

New York City venture capitalist and blogger Fred Wilson is hopeful — as I was, albeit somewhat tentatively — that the antidote to vapidmedia is the rise of social search. Social search, he says, will help us decide what’s quality content and what isn’t, where search engines can’t: “It’s a lot harder to spam yourself into a social graph.” This fits with my own thinking that social search stands to eclipse the power of Google in relatively short order — Google’s empire is built on a clever recreation of social approval, hierarchy and relevance, but the Web has matured to the point where we can use those social tools instead of industrial substitutes for them. (This is also why, as I wrote, the drama starring Rupert Murdoch, Google, Bing and vengeance-minded publishers will make for great theater but not particularly matter before long.)

Jeff Jarvis spoke with Demand’s Steven Kydd about the company. Jarvis also sees social search as a way to prevent content farms from degrading search results, though he praises Demand’s algorithms as useful to discovering questions the public wants answered. His take is interesting, though I think he gives Demand too much credit by urging us “not to miss Demand’s key insight: that the public should assign the creators, including journalists.” I agree that Demand’s algorithms are smart and could be useful in spotlighting questions the public wants answered, but Demand isn’t part of any war of journalism ideology, and I think it does more public harm than good.

Coming nearly full-circle, ReadWriteWeb’s McManus looks at some ways Google can combat the content farms — and notes it’s quite likely that Google is already working to put some of these tactics in place. Here’s hoping.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Jarvis, Jason Fry. Jason Fry said: A roundup of the furor over Demand Media and content farms, at Reinventing the Newsroom. http://bit.ly/74uvyF [...]

  2. uberVU - social comments said, on December 16, 2009 at 7:08 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by jasoncfry: A roundup of the furor over Demand Media and content farms, at Reinventing the Newsroom. http://bit.ly/74uvyF

  3. [...] Since then the discussion of these “content farms” (what ReadWriteWeb editor Richard MacManus called them recently) has picked up a lot intensity online. For a good round-up, see Jason Fry’s recent post,The Furor Over Content Farms. [...]

  4. [...] has picked up a lot intensity online. For a good round-up, see Jason Fry’s recent post The Furor Over Content Farms. In the following interview Demand Media founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, I explore this new [...]

  5. [...] has picked up a lot intensity online. For a good round-up, see Jason Fry’s recent post The Furor Over Content Farms. In the following interview with Demand Media founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, I explore this [...]

  6. [...] has picked up a lot intensity online. For a good round-up, see Jason Fry’s recent post The Furor Over Content Farms. In the following interview with Demand Media founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, I explore this [...]

  7. nuze.me said, on December 16, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    [...] has picked up a lot intensity online. For a good round-up, see Jason Fry’s recent post The Furor Over Content Farms. In the following interview with Demand Media founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, I explore this [...]

  8. [...] recently) has picked up a lot intensity online. For a good round-up, see Jason Fry's recent post The Furor Over Content Farms. In the following interview with Demand Media founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, I explore this [...]

  9. Tish Grier said, on December 16, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    I started looking deeper into the “vapidmedia” thing and, quite honestly, from what I know from my forays into social media consulting/marketing, is that what Demand is doing is no less “bad” than what many corporate blogs do–and want social media to do for them. (honestly, many could care less about communicating or conversing with the customer.)

    There is, btw, a way around bad search results: spend some time refining your search to get away from commonly used search terms. This way, you will get around all the vapidmedia and get to the good stuff. Social search (recommendations from friends or other people) is also helpful, but just using one’s own noodle and moving away from least common denominator search weeds out a lot of the bad content. This is a skill that some kids are learning in school, believe it or not, and from their school librarians!

    Not all of eHow’s stuff is all that bad–and oddly, some of it I’ve seen re-purposed on corporate blogs and a portion of it has good introductory information (but not in-depth info) So, who’s the real demon here? I’d say it’s the corporate blogs that don’t care about what they’re putting out there as long as they get pageviews. As long as there are clients for that, then there will be people willing to produce “search driven” content.

  10. [...] has picked up a lot intensity online. For a good round-up, see Jason Fry’s recent post The Furor Over Content Farms. In the following interview with Demand Media founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, I explore this [...]

  11. The Importance Good of Content said, on December 28, 2009 at 7:21 am

    [...] Demand Media and Answers.com have been on the hot seat for being content creation engines. Demand Media has the audacity of creating content that people want to read just so that they can [...]

  12. [...] The Furor Over Content Farms @ reinventingthenewsroom [...]

  13. [...] The Furor over content farms [...]

  14. [...] at articles it supplied to USA Today here. I also did a roundup of posts about content farms here that may be useful for further [...]

  15. [...] The Furor Over Content Farms « Reinventing the Newsroom said, on December 15, 2009 at 11:56 am [...]

  16. Growing Discontent | justlikeme.nl said, on July 8, 2010 at 3:22 am

    [...] Stableford, former managing-editor of mediabistro.com, is the latest in a series [1,2,3] of media commentators to speak out against the booming ‘content farming’ industry.  [...]

  17. [...] Lesetipp der Woche: The Furor Over Content Farms: I’m glad to see I’m not alone — the agitation over content farms (my term was vapidmedia) is [...]

  18. [...] Fry: The Furor Over Content Farms [...]

  19. Will said, on August 5, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE THE ROLLERCOASTER!

    I think the question will be, what quality level will the mass production be able to achieve. There will be a limit, and sites that take a more authoritative view and give trust a boost within their content (like http://www.thefreeresource.com does) will win in the long run. I guess it’s the different between a mass produced car and a hand crafted car. Which will last longer and have less issues? I put my money on the hand crafted vehicle. I think the same is true with the large sites that rely on mass but have little quality behind each article. We recently saw this with QA sites and will soon see it with content farms that don’t live up to Google’s and the users standards.


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