Dylan 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. In a two-page tirade on The Wrap, Stableford demonizes Associated Content (just purchased by Yahoo! for $100 Million), producer of more than 4000 video clips and articles per day, Demand Media (planning an IPO at approximately $1.5 billion) and AOL's young entrant to the business, Seed. Slate Magazine's Farhad Manjoo sums up the perspective of many journalists: "Associated Content stands as a cautionary tale for anyone looking to do news by the numbers. It is a wasteland of bad writing, uninformed commentary, and the sort of comically dull recitation of the news you'd get from a second grader."
One consistent complaint levied against the current batch of content-producing firms is that they manipulate search engines by spewing out high volumes of media created (through paid crowdsourcing) for the sole purpose of featuring key search terms. As the WSJ reports, "if its algorithms show consumers are searching for information about the Zhu Zhu Pets robotic hamster, a retailer could pay AOL to sponsor an article about where to find the hot toy".
Jason Fry, a former WSJ.com reporter, reiterates similar grievances. "What bugs me is that this stuff essentially games Google to show up high in search results, making it more likely that people seeking information will have their time wasted reading crummy content produced for spiders, not readers," Fry said. "That makes search worse for all of us...If you want to know how our profession ends, look at Demand Media.
Another accusation in Stableford's article is that the content farming business model does not leave time for editing, fact-checking or polishing. The writing, argues Fry, is comparable to "a poorly organized and indifferently written first draft. It's assembly-line content, and USA Today is letting this stuff carry its name."
The one positive note in an otherwise grim report is that Stableford believes the growth of 'social search' may pose a major threat to underhanded content farming practices. As more and more news stories are being spread through social-networks rather than traditional search engines, content farmers are losing their ability to spread articles that readers don't like enough to post to their friends or networks. It is hoped that this trend will eventually pressure Yahoo!, AOL and Demand Media to create higher-quality content that people consistently find useful and worthy of passing around.
Source: The Wrap