Google vs. the Content Farms


There’s been a lot of attention recently to “content farms,” sites that provide lots of articles on a range of topics, but typically of low quality.

Part of the attention was driven by the IPO of Demand Media and by Google’s recent algorithm change to “lower the search rankings of websites that the company said offer little useful information,” according to the Wall St. Journal’s “Google’s Search Cleanup Has Big Effect,” noting:

“Google has said the change was aimed, among other things, at sites with what it calls ‘low quality’ content: just enough information to appear in search results and lure users to pages loaded with advertisements. It estimated that the new algorithms would affect about 12% of U.S.-based search queries and would expand to non-U.S. queries in the near future.”

Defining and defending “low quality content” has become a big issue.

For one thing, how do you define low quality?

When defining “low quality,” both the Journal and the New York Times cited Amit Singhal, a Google fellow, quoting the company as saying, those sites “which are low-value add for users, copy content from other Web sites or sites that are just not very useful.”

Seems a bit like circular logic — and I’m on Google’s side.

The other defining characteristic is the low pay received by writers of these articles — typically $10 to $15 per article.  That seems to have outraged the mainstream reporters the most — when they try to get paid at a higher rates.

I think Content Farms are disruptive in a bad way (as opposed to Clay Christensen’s positive disruption). They make more noise that makes it difficult for users to get good info.  The challenge is in defining low quality — and the fact that sometimes, people just want basic info, and don’t need long-form journalism.

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