"next generation content companies"
July 26, 2010 12:36 PM   Subscribe

"I was completely aware that I was writing crap," she said. "I was like, 'I hope to God people don't read my advice on how to make gin at home because they'll probably poison themselves.'" PBS MediaShift takes a week-long look at content farms. (Previously)
posted by jbickers (73 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating. I'd never heard the term "content farm" before, but I knew instantly what they were talking about. I guess I always thought someone was just accumulating (perhaps plagiarizing) material from elsewhere in a slapdash fashion, but I didn't think writers were just actively making stuff up.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:40 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, is Metafilter a Content Community Garden?
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:42 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, is Metafilter a Content Community Garden?

Nyet, comrade. Metafilter is a Content Kolkhoz.
posted by gompa at 12:44 PM on July 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


I didn't think writers were just actively making stuff up.

Writers Explain What It's Like Toiling Trolling on the Content Farm
posted by Avelwood at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2010


I've run across the occasional content farm while googling; they always look really, really goddamn sketchy. Like, click the link, stylesheet loads, and suddenly you start thinking about how recent your antivirus and antimalware definitions are.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:47 PM on July 26, 2010 [22 favorites]


Ugh. The thing that irritates me about "content farms" is not the farms themselves -- they're just playing the SEO game -- but that Google doesn't do more to filter out their keyword-laden garbage. Or even give users a way to do it themselves.

With all of the preferences and other information that Google stores for each user, you would think that they'd have an option that would let you blacklist certain domains that you don't ever want to see in your results. eHow would be #1 on mine, and the other content farms would form the rest of the list. That they don't do this suggests to me that there's more than a little collusion, formal or informal, between the content farms and Google (as both a search engine but primarily as an ad vendor). Presumably Google lets these sites stay and clutter up results, which basically amounts to feeding them users, because these sites subsist on advertising that Google gets a cut of. They have no incentive to get rid of them.

This may work fine for Google in the short term, but it strikes me as an opportunity, if the problem of basically content-free "content" continues to proliferate, for another search engine to steal users. You wouldn't need to beat Google's algorithm on its merits if they're handicapping themselves by not filtering out obvious garbage that nobody in their right mind wants to read, all you need to do is be reasonably good and do a better job filtering the crap.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2010 [40 favorites]


Well, that explains a lot about ehow... every single article I've ever landed on there pretty much goes like, "How to play the flute: You blow down there, and you move your fingers up and down here."
posted by usonian at 12:51 PM on July 26, 2010 [23 favorites]


I'm glad Corbin Hiar honored our agreement to only use my first name.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2010


The startup search engine DuckDuckGo actively screens out content farms from Mahalo, DM, eHow, and so forth. The founder's been active on Twitter talking about it in response to today's boomlet of interest in the topic.
posted by sachinag at 12:53 PM on July 26, 2010 [16 favorites]


I wonder if this is how the scribes who transcribed copies of the Bible felt during the middle ages.
posted by thorny at 1:00 PM on July 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I wonder whether the stakeholders in human content farms are going to lose interest when they realize that the end product isn't measurably less useful than what cpedia churns out with machines (see also).
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 1:01 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't see anything wrong with those instructions on making "gin," in fact, I've done basically that with whiskey.
posted by mkb at 1:04 PM on July 26, 2010


Also:

I wonder if this is how the scribes who transcribed copies of the Bible felt during the middle ages.

Please produce 1000 to 5000 words on each of the following topics:

"How to Make a Living by the Sweat of Your Brow Following Expulsion From Paradise"
"How to Build a Boat in 40 Days"
"How to Beget" (we may have multiple assignments of this type)
"How to Inherit the Earth"
"How to Identify the Beast"
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 1:06 PM on July 26, 2010 [35 favorites]


I wonder if this is how the scribes who transcribed copies of the Bible felt during the middle ages.

17 And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch. 18 And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech. And I begat a stinky one, but blamed it upon Azor, son of Lumox, who still owes me a loaf of bread from last week. That guy is a jerk, may God fill his path with pointy sticks. 19 And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20 And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle. 21 And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. 22 And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2010 [27 favorites]


Is it possible to genetically engineer a virus that will behaviourally modify 99.999% of humanity to want to read content but not create it?

(I will pay three dollars for a thousand words on this topic)
posted by fleetmouse at 1:20 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


With all of the preferences and other information that Google stores for each user, you would think that they'd have an option that would let you blacklist certain domains that you don't ever want to see in your results.

Customize Google for the win. I note it's not working in FF 4.0 beta, alas.
posted by maxwelton at 1:28 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it possible to genetically engineer a virus that will behaviourally modify 99.999% of humanity to want to read content but not create it?

I'm pretty sure that already happened.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:29 PM on July 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


Kadin2048: The thing that irritates me about "content farms" is not the farms themselves -- they're just playing the SEO game -- but that Google doesn't do more to filter out their keyword-laden garbage.
Your collusion theory seems plausible enough, but there may be a simpler explanation. It may be that a lot of Google users are actually completely satisfied with the content farm results, that Google has a way of measuring that satisfaction, and of adjusting the content farms upward in the search results as a result.

We here at MeFi are probably more experienced web surfers than average. We may have a nose for these things, instantly writing off certain sites as cynical ploys or outright scams. But we're not everybody. We're not even close.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:31 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't see anything wrong with those instructions on making "gin"

You make gin be re-distilling neutral spirits with your herbs in a "gin head" inserted into the vapor path.

This sort of thing should be easy to look up on the internet, except everyone is so busy throwing up whatever crap they can think of to try and trick us into looking at their ads that the signal to noise ratio is going to Hell.
posted by ecurtz at 1:35 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Gah! Just think of the profit that will be had when "pay for edit" finally arrives!
posted by ecurtz at 1:38 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't quite understand why anyone would even bother writing for eHow. For one thing, writers are only paid something like $25 per article, and it seems like most contributors (understandably) do not want to be associated with the content - there's little money in it (although I suppose if you wrote 8 articles a day it would pay okay), and no opportunity to flesh out your resume.

Working as an SEO copywriter would be marginally better - there should be at least 5 SEO-focused agencies in every mid-sized city you could write for, you'll know your editors, and the pay is the same. By working locally, you'll also have the opportunity learn and apply the nuts-and-bolts basics of white hat SEO, which dramatically increases your earning potential.

But, then again, perhaps the writers on eHow are really only interested in journalism, or more noble callings as a wordsmith, rather than marketing writing.

Neat post!
posted by KokuRyu at 1:42 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


The startup search engine DuckDuckGo actively screens out content farms from Mahalo, DM, eHow, and so forth. The founder's been active on Twitter talking about it in response to today's boomlet of interest in the topic.

I still get AssociatedContent and some other less than seemly stuff. Still, I think I'll putter around with this for a week or so.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2010


Another example: look up expanded metal lath. Half the sites give incorrect installation instructions. Lath should feel smooth on the downstroke.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:45 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: The thing that irritates me about "content farms" is not the farms themselves -- they're just playing the SEO game -- but that Google doesn't do more to filter out their keyword-laden garbage.

Google makes most of its revenues from advertising; to a certain extent, Google needs the keyword-laden garbage. The search algorithms filter for originality and article quality, and also relevance, which should be enough to cut out the crap in the top-ranking search results. And like others have said in this thread, you can either customize Google to get rid of the crap (including Wikipedia results), or you can switch to a different search engine.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:48 PM on July 26, 2010


True story. Back in the day, when I was a newspaper editor, we failed to receive our weekly allotment of horoscopes for the features page. Normally, we'd get a preformatted delivery of a week's worth, and we'd cut them out and drop them onto the galleys. They just didn't show up one week.

So I sat down and wrote one day's horoscopes myself. "Let's see ... Aries, Aries ... hmm ... 'avoid making difficult decisions today' ... uhh ... 'stay close to your friends.'"

I deliberately kept the ones I wrote oblique, so they were meaningless. What I really wanted to write was "Put your money on Paperboy in the fifth race at Hollywood Park." But I thought that would be offsides.

The next few days, I reached back into the archives and ran old ones and just changed the dates.

Nobody complained. Nobody noticed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:56 PM on July 26, 2010 [26 favorites]


Yeah, it pisses me off that Google doesn't route around this stuff either-- it's never "the best of the web," and certainly never the best article on any subject, yet because of SEO, it ranks high. And consequently, we get a race to the bottom where people think crap content is good and that paying crap is fine so real writers can no longer make a living doing decent work.

It is impossible to write a decent article and get paid decently for the money they pay if you live in the U.S. Either you write and research well by taking a bit of time and get paid slave wages-- or you write poorly and do sloppy, fast research and get paid decently for churning out thousands of lousy words a day. And I say this as someone who naturally writes extremely fast.

If you are an expert on the subjects you cover and a fast writer, you might be able to both do well and cut corners, but it would eventually catch up with you because mistakes are inevitable when you are careful, but many, many more will occur when you are careless. And their vaunted, equally cheap copy editors do not find the numerous grammatical and factual errors that wind up in the articles.

By working for these guys you are also doing a disservice to the quality of the web, to the community of writers who needs to make a living and to the readers who would like accurate and readable information.

When you read articles like this, you hear their "writers" claiming that the companies are doing a service by allowing them to make a living from home by writing. What they are forgetting is that they are making a living from home writing in a way that drives quality and pay down across the web-- and makes millions for people who don't care and who will, when Google inevitably does start routing around them, dump the whole thing and move on to the next scam.
posted by Maias at 2:00 PM on July 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well, I'm sure they get clickthrus; if they didn't they wouldn't make any money from advertising, and thus wouldn't exist. They're clearly quite profitable, and therefore they're getting eyeballs.

And it's possible that some people don't understand or appreciate that eHow isn't a very good how-to site, or that there is probably better information out there on any particular topic than what you get from a content farm. But one of the things that a really good search engine would do is steer people towards high-quality information. Content farms don't do anything but rehash commonly-available information that any reasonably-educated person would know (at best -- that is, when the information isn't flat-out wrong); it's not as though article authors are subject matter experts. They don't add value. Just dropping the farms from the search results would increase the quality of the results by virtually any measure I can imagine, even if casual users can't immediately tell. It may take a non-savvy user a while to notice though, and they might not really notice what happened.

(Although in general I am skeptical that 'average users' are quite this stupid. I find it hard to believe that anyone who has ever searched for anything on Google and run across an eHow article doesn't think that it's basically one step up from spam. I'll have to ask around next time I'm in a non-geek setting and see what people think. I guess it's possible that people don't notice how stupid the articles are ... but that would be really depressing.)

When Google started to become popular, I watched a lot of people make the switch from other search engines (Altavista, Lycos, Yahoo), sometimes reluctantly, and be unable to put their finger on why exactly Google was better. Google just "knew what they meant". It was as though the Internet itself just got better in some mysterious way. That's how I suspect a removal of content farm / SEO spam would feel to a lot of casual web users; they might not notice exactly what had changed, but they might perceive some nonspecific improvement in their experience more generally.

DDG still has a ways to go before they'll be on par with Google's results (plus they suffer by not being able to integrate with Google's other services, like Maps), but I think they narrow the gap substantially just by dumping the content-farm/SEO-optimized stuff. Given the amount of money and talent Google has to throw at the problem, it's going to be tough for them to beat Google in an honest fight, but if Google hobbles itself by not tailoring search results -- for whatever reason -- they might some day be able to welcome an exodus of users from Google, in the same way that Google lured users from Yahoo and other engines, with nothing but uncannily 'better' results.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:01 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I recently met with a client about a new website. When they were filling out my website questionnaire, they either left all the marketing questions blank or wrote "n/a." When they said they had a target audience of "everybody," I stopped them and started asking questions.

Question: "How do you plan to market to 'everybody'?"

Answer: "Ezinearticles. We plan to write several 300-word articles at a time, until our rankings really start to go up. They give you a backlink there, you know."

Question: "Where did you hear about this approach? And can I tell you how hard that is going to fail?"

Answer: "Actually it was somebody who's using that approach right now for their own website. It's sort of a work in progress."

Sigh.

Fortunately the client made a turnaround and decided to engage in actual marketing. Yay.

FWIW, if you hear about backlinks from sites like these, don't even waste your energy.
posted by circular at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2010


Is it possible to genetically engineer a virus that will behaviourally modify 99.999% of humanity to want to read content but not create it?

(I will pay three dollars for a thousand words on this topic)


Yes. Well, probably, because science is up to some crazy shit these days. Scientists created self-replicating synthetic life, so the sky's the limit, hypothetically speaking. And scientists got to the moon, like, before I was born. Shit, the moon is way out there, and now they've created synthetic life? What kind of time-line are you thinking about here? Is it a few months? Probably not. A few years? Maybe. More than 10 years. Yeah, we're getting hot now. 20 years? Totally possible. If computers can be taught to recognize the difference between a capital B and the number 8, then scientists can totally make people read content but not write stuff. Totally possible. What if they just breed people without fingers? No one would want to write without fingers. What, are they going to attach pencils to their fingerless hands? Nah, no one would help them, because all their friends would have no fingers. That's kind of fucked up, if you think about it. No fingers. On anyone. But it's totally possible, like even in 5 years. Bring back leprosy and shit. That would do the job, right? Is that how leprosy works? Is this 1,000 words yet? I want my $3.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:26 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


You have to wonder at the morality or circumstances of a person who actually hopes no one will read what they are writing but then goes ahead and writes it anyway.
posted by DU at 2:29 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, DuckDuckGo is interesting. It actually seems to do some things right, which 3/4 of Google Killers fail to do.
posted by DU at 2:30 PM on July 26, 2010


I can't quite understand why anyone would even bother writing for eHow. For one thing, writers are only paid something like $25 per article, and it seems like most contributors (understandably) do not want to be associated with the content - there's little money in it (although I suppose if you wrote 8 articles a day it would pay okay), and no opportunity to flesh out your resume.

I, on the other hand, can totally see the appeal. I'm well-paid, but with kids and a house and all I don't have extra money laying around. I also feel guilty spending money on myself that isn't necessary (and rightfully so, I think) because it takes away money needed elsewhere in the household.

So if I were going to buy a new car, and the difference between the one I need and the one I want works out to around $100 a month, banging out four articles about crap per month would be extremely easy to justify -- I could do it at night and at lunchtime, I don't care about my resume or anything like that, and since I write a lot of technical how-to documents anyway (and know a lot of random crap), I can hit my quota and perhaps a little extra to bank against the months I don't feel like doing it.
posted by davejay at 2:31 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


and if I were a better writer, I would have written "four articles a month about crap" instead of "four articles about crap per month"
posted by davejay at 2:33 PM on July 26, 2010


Do ezinearticles articles even rank on the first page of Google results?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:35 PM on July 26, 2010


I could do it at night and at lunchtime, I don't care

Well, if you learn the associated basic SEO tools and techniques, you can go from $25 an article to $100, for maybe an hour's worth of work.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:36 PM on July 26, 2010


Well, probably, because science is up to some crazy shit these days. Scientists created self-replicating synthetic life

Does self-replicating include recursive link loops?
posted by FatherDagon at 2:42 PM on July 26, 2010


Google makes most of its revenues from advertising; to a certain extent, Google needs the keyword-laden garbage.

This is incorrect.

Google doesn't accept pay for placement (which was a big part of the reason Google so rapidly superseded its competition in the 90s), and doesn't pay sites to include them in the web index. The sites in question may have banner ads that have nothing to do with Google, and the best sites to return may have Google ads, so there is no hard correlation between ad revenue and result quality. Causing searchers to load several false hits on the way to the good content may give Google a small amount of revenue along the way, but they're almost certain to not result in ad click-throughs as the user is trying to get to good content as rapidly as possible, and in the long run fuels dissatisfaction with Google as a search engine.
posted by JHarris at 3:00 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


And to think I used ehow to find a DIY way to clean my cheap jewelry just last week... *Enjoys new replacement earrings*
posted by ShadePlant at 3:01 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


When Google started to become popular, I watched a lot of people make the switch from other search engines (Altavista, Lycos, Yahoo), sometimes reluctantly, and be unable to put their finger on why exactly Google was better. Google just "knew what they meant".

I thought it was because Google was the only search engine at the time that was actively spidering "the whole web" or a much, much larger portion of online content than its competitors. Everybody else was still basically a directory, aside from maybe Hotbot (which was the next best search engine, probably), which seemed to have a much smaller reach in terms of spidering.

Do ezinearticles articles even rank on the first page of Google results?

google how get rid split ends (i am bald, fwiw)

Customize Google for the win. I note it's not working in FF 4.0 beta, alas.

Customize Google died a little while ago. It won't work on anything past 3.6.1.

Optimize Google is the continued project. As far as I know, you can still filter out specific domains, sites, or pages (though they still show up as gray links in their respective spots).
posted by mrgrimm at 3:27 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jharris: If Google sends someone to Ehow and the user clicks an Adsense ad there because Ehow didn't answer their question then Google makes money, and I'd bet the average web user doesn't blame Google in that scenario. I would wager they blame Ehow, if anyone. I have a lot of reason to believe the average web user doesn't think that deeply about these things.

Hell, the average web user can't even tell you how Google makes money.
posted by imabanana at 3:29 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that already happened.

I'm pretty sure it didn't. There's a Kliban cartoon of a guy with a number card on his back screaming chickens off a perch iwhile another guy with a clipboard scores his performance. That's always struck me as a perfect metaphor for the web.
posted by fleetmouse at 4:00 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how a scheme such as this would pan out:

Assumptions:
Google would be willing to improve the internet, possibly at the expense of some margin of profit
SEO spammers won't keep an unprofitable site up long enough to be interested in long-term plans.

Google adds a "was this what you wanted?" link to the side of every result. User must be logged into their google account, but can upvote anonymously. Multiply page ranking by 1.01 or something.

Alternatively, some intrepid add-on programmer does the same and some generous soul pays to maintain a database to store the data.
posted by rubah at 4:06 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Christopher forces himself to pump out a minimum of three per hour for three hours a day.

Jesus. Like it wasn't already hard enough to get the time and resources to do a good job. Content strategy evangelising aside, there's still tons of people who mentally compartmentalise content as a thing that gets slotted in at the end, in a fast and cheap way. If they can point at the content farms and say 'see, they're doing it', that's another barrier to actually making the web a good place to be.

I still can't believe I had to argue for the value of accuracy recently...
posted by Dandeson Coates, Sec'y at 4:43 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how a scheme such as this would pan out:

Upvoting farms.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:45 PM on July 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


rubah: all that system would do is shift some of the action to gaming the "was this was you wanted?" link instead of the site itself. And it's probably a lot easier to game the link.
posted by Justinian at 4:46 PM on July 26, 2010


I wonder how a scheme such as this would pan out:

Upvoting farms.
This, a thousand times. That's what happend to the comment forms on blogs, to trackbacks, to pingbacks, to Digg, and so on. Systems that allow your input to control what a larger pool of people sees result, inevitably, in the use of those systems for spamming.

And that's what content farms are, at the end of the day: they are spam. Aggressively garnished, prettily packaged, and gaudily promoted... but still spam.
posted by verb at 5:00 PM on July 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think I prefer "bum marketing" as the term of art over "content farms." It seems much more descriptive of what these things are.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:03 PM on July 26, 2010


Optimize Google is the continued project.
posted by mrgrimm


Thanks so much for pointing this out. I just added it and blocked example.com and ehow.com. Works great on my Firefox 3.6.8.

It replaces the search result body with a single greyed out URL for any results from the blocked domains. It is very unobtrusive but still gives me visibility into what is being blocked which I like.
posted by Babblesort at 6:00 PM on July 26, 2010


JHarris: "There is no hard correlation between ad revenue and result quality. Causing searchers to load several false hits on the way to the good content may give Google a small amount of revenue along the way, but they're almost certain to not result in ad click-throughs as the user is trying to get to good content as rapidly as possible, and in the long run fuels dissatisfaction with Google as a search engine."

Exactly, very little correlation. The Register has done some good analysis over the past few years looking at how Google has abandoned (or watered down) its approach to "quality" and finding that "one perfect advert" per result. It seems this was necessary to goose income during the advertising downturn. It has increased the number of ads/result, manipulated the required quality metric (the secret sauce that is used as a cutoff and a multiplier during the placement auction) by removing the minimum bid floor, and sundry other revenue generation strategies (including a rather lax policy on ad channel placement expansion, typo squatting, domain name parking, keyword fudging, comparison shopping spam and, yes, content farms).

Now that the advertising market has improved somewhat, and is continuing to improve, Google seems to be tightening up its quality again. But the sad fact of the matter is that there's a sufficient percentage of people who will click on *anything*, even ads specifically telling that the ads themselves are dangerous to click on. Google knows this, and makes money from it. More content equals more revenue. When it started, it needed to return much better quality than the search engine leaders of 1999-2002. Now Google is so large, owns so much of the market, has so many ad delivery channels and has such lock-in that it really doesn't need to try very hard at all.
posted by meehawl at 6:08 PM on July 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is what I hate about the internet today.
posted by mmagin at 6:39 PM on July 26, 2010


This is why I'm such a big proponent of things like Google Books.

I mean, seriously people. The quality of knowledge itself is dying. Are there any teachers on this thread who've been around for twenty years? "If it ain't on Wikipedia, it isn't real" has to be the name of the game now.

I don't care what it takes, royalty wise, to fix this problem. It _has_ to be fixed!
posted by effugas at 6:49 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is what I hate about the internet today.

The internet doesn't make us better. It exposes us for who we are.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:24 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Upvoting farms

I realize I forgot to include this in my original comment-- I was headed that way when I assumed a SEO firm wouldn't be up for long-term investing but ultimately forgot:

the ability to add credence to a given link would be directly tied to the length of time you were registered, if going with the google-being-good idea. I'm not sure how intelligent trawler bots are, but it seems reasonable to hope that using a browser add-on would be beyond their general capability.
posted by rubah at 7:31 PM on July 26, 2010


That they don't do this suggests to me that there's more than a little collusion, formal or informal, between the content farms and Google (as both a search engine but primarily as an ad vendor). Presumably Google lets these sites stay and clutter up results, which basically amounts to feeding them users, because these sites subsist on advertising that Google gets a cut of. They have no incentive to get rid of them.

I've been suspicious of the same thing for some time. Google was so clearly better, for so long. And now it seems obvious that SEO/content farm sites are gaming the Google algorithms in ways that (one would think) should be easy for Google to defeat. Instead, they are keeping those results, and allowing them to rank high in search results. If it's not ad revenue they are getting out of it, then what is it?
posted by Forktine at 7:40 PM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jharris: If Google sends someone to Ehow and the user clicks an Adsense ad there because Ehow didn't answer their question then Google makes money, and I'd bet the average web user doesn't blame Google in that scenario.

What does Google gain from a user doing that instead of clicking on the ad on a useful result page?
posted by JHarris at 7:58 PM on July 26, 2010


To a certain extent I think Google is a victim of its own success here. What made Google successful originally was that they found a tractable way to use the web's link structure to deduce the interestingness of individual pages. Before Google, web search engines could find a zillion pages matching your search term, but didn't have a good way to sort the results.

But why did this work? It worked because people actually did encode their judgments of page interestingness into the web's link structure. It was very common for someone with an interest in a subject to maintain a page with a list of links to pages on the topic. Publicly-visible bookmark lists (a la del.icio.us) were common. Etc. But those are much less common if users can simply type their search terms into Google and get good results. I can't remember the last time I even considered putting together a page of references on a subject. Heck, I hardly ever bookmark things any more— between my searchable browser history and Google, I rarely need to.

What this means is that the basic information source that Google used to generate good results is much weaker than it was. It's not completely missing; any discussion forum where people try to link to relevant info, for example, still has the effect of making link structure reflect users' judgments. And Google has numerous other tricks up its sleeve I'm sure.

Of course, another problem is that people are putting a lot more effort into subverting search engines than they used to. Ten years ago, the idea of employing tens of thousands of people just to corrupt a search engine's results-relevance algorithm would have been ludicrous.
posted by hattifattener at 8:15 PM on July 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Of course, another problem is that people are putting a lot more effort into subverting search engines than they used to.

The fascinating part, to me, is that the crappy SEO results are so visibly, obviously bad to the human eye, and yet seemingly score high on the Google algorithm. All that effort going into subverting the algorithm only works because the algorithm hasn't been rewritten to prevent it.
posted by Forktine at 8:35 PM on July 26, 2010


How else am I supposed to make a quick fifty bucks after work without breaking into the offices of procrastinating screenwriters?
posted by mecran01 at 8:45 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


All that effort going into subverting the algorithm only works because the algorithm hasn't been rewritten to prevent it.

Isn't that because the screwier end of SEO (okay, most of SEO) is based on finding holes in the algorithm, not big structural deficiencies? So while Google knows to automatically derank pages that, although reasonably well-written, are repeatedly duplicated and only link to one another, they don't have a specific means of weeding out the unique instance of "5outh_cAnnnadiaN Pre-5crip-SHUN m3dica-ca-ca-cation". It gets patched when they notice it, but because it's so obscure and relies on edge cases, it slips through for long enough to make it worthwhile.

This might be a good time to note that I'm not very good at cracking PageRank.
posted by Dandeson Coates, Sec'y at 9:43 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I sat down and wrote one day's horoscopes myself . . . I deliberately kept the ones I wrote oblique, so they were meaningless

I have done this as well. I know of several newspaper editors who have. Of course, horoscopes are always oblique and meaningless. This is why astrology is total bullshit. Most of these content farms don't pay jack though. Associated Content is a complete joke and the article here isn't lying when they say they pay as little as .05 cents per piece. I have a friend who has constantly tried to get me to write for these farms, I always explain to him that I have no desire to produce content for five cents.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:09 PM on July 26, 2010


Wow. Not only was chasing self-aware, but he also anticipated the rise of the vuvuzela.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:25 PM on July 26, 2010


Content farms are misnamed. Other places are the actual farms, or sometimes smallholdings. What people call content farms are actually recycling low grade agricultural waste.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:40 AM on July 27, 2010


Hello! I have written for content farms!

I was unemployed and bored. I have been slowly transitioning out of desktop support and into content creation, and I figured writing every day is good even if it's just 500 words on why iPhones are neat (for which I was paid $.17 or something). Hey, it's better than getting drunk all day and shouting at contestants who get answers wrong on Family Feud, right?

Oddly enough, it sort of worked. I mean, there's no way to make a living from content farms unless you are an inhuman writing machine who doesn't need food or logical sentence structure. But I was able to parlay my work with crappy content farms into slightly less crappy eLance-y jobs and then turn those into working for sites that I am not even ashamed to link to my friends.

So anyway, content farms are kind of ishy in concept, I agree, but a lot of the folks who write for them are moms or retired folks or the unemployed. There's no real mystery why someone would do it.
posted by jess at 2:34 AM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


As an underemployed 20-something, my curiosity is peaked. Also, I don't neither not need any food or logical sentence structure. Am inhuman writing machine. CHEAP FREE CAMCORDER DVD.

Yeah, I think I can cut it.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:26 AM on July 27, 2010


You make gin be re-distilling neutral spirits with your herbs in a "gin head" inserted into the vapor path.

Actually, smart guy, that's how you make "distilled" gin. The E-How article provides a perfectly good recipe for "compound" gin.

Compound gin is the shitty version that was sold to poor toothless Brits in the 19th Century and mixed in bathtubs across the United States in the 1920s. You used to be able to buy it in plastic bottles, but I don't think it's produced commercially anymore. It's perfectly safe, it's just not as tasty.
posted by snottydick at 8:00 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


piqued
posted by crush-onastick at 8:30 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


This series of articles comes at the perfect time. My college's information literacy group is starting a yearlong focus on credibility of online sources. While many of my colleagues just ban Wikipedia, I am more concerned about these content farm sites. To students, they look credible, listing authors and having a seemingly trustworthy domain name. It's getting really difficult to help students navigate online sources.
posted by TrarNoir at 9:58 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oddly enough, it sort of worked. I mean, there's no way to make a living from content farms unless you are an inhuman writing machine who doesn't need food or logical sentence structure. But I was able to parlay my work with crappy content farms into slightly less crappy eLance-y jobs and then turn those into working for sites that I am not even ashamed to link to my friends.

This is a really good point I hadn't considered. For writers trying to get noticed, put your name on content-farm material and it will get SEO'd to hell and back. People will see your name.

If you're producing good writing, it's not a horrible strategy for finding a real job.

Christopher forces himself to pump out a minimum of three per hour for three hours a day

I used to write periodical abstracts all day and you can definitely get into a rhythm. His pace is certainly doable. And for $45/hr. it's not bad work.

Oh, interesting. It looks like eHow.com has removed some of the articles linked to from MediaShift.

How to Wear a Sweater Vest

How to Massage a Dog That Is Emotionally Stressed

How to Make Gin at Home

"Never trust anything you read on eHow.com," she said, referring to one of Demand Media's high-traffic websites, on which most of her clips appeared.

I'm guessing that's what prompted their decision to remove them. lol.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:02 AM on July 27, 2010


This series of articles comes at the perfect time. My college's information literacy group is starting a yearlong focus on credibility of online sources. While many of my colleagues just ban Wikipedia, I am more concerned about these content farm sites. To students, they look credible, listing authors and having a seemingly trustworthy domain name. It's getting really difficult to help students navigate online sources.

When I did my history undergrad degree, the first thing they teach you is to cite sources, and the second thing they teach you is to think critically about who or what the sources are. If you don't do this in a 3000 word essay about the Treat of Brest-Litovsk, you fail. For example, I was pretty lazy during my undergrad years, and always left essay writing to the last minutes when, invariably, all of the best books on a given subject would be checked out of the stacks (we're talking 200-level and up). I couldn't be bothered to look up journal articles, so I would scrounge from 20-year-old sources that were woefully out of date. And I would get penalized on my essays for that.

Are there any credible online sources?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:27 AM on July 27, 2010


Regarding the average internet user:

I get a lot of calls from telemarketers and creditors (somebody has been giving my number out). I google the number and get a list of places the number is mentioned to see if I should bother calling them back. Generally, the first result is one of those websites which list every known number in the US and people can put in comments for who called them from that number. Invariably, out of 50 or so comments, one or two of them will be something like this:

YOU KEEEP CALLING ME STOP I AM NO THE DO NOT CALL LIST YOU ASSHOLES

Apparently a not insignificant number of people believe these websites are the websites of the company that is calling them, even though they have non-mysterious names like "phone-lookup.com."
posted by joannemerriam at 12:31 PM on July 27, 2010


This ch0comiz4r article has a lot to do with content farming and keyword prostitution.
posted by meehawl at 10:48 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The one teaching obstacle I have, so far, never been able to get past is how to teach international students what a content farm is, why it is bad, and to never use them as sources when writing papers for my freshman composition class.

Every. Single. Person. Uses. Them. I've tried to explain what they are but it's like talking to a wall. I wish I just knew the Chinese and Korean word for this kind of thing.

The next time I teach, which won't be for two more years as I'm on a research fellowship, I am doing whole lesson plans on what they are and why they are to be avoided. Maybe, maybe, maybe it will help.
posted by Tesseractive at 3:22 PM on July 29, 2010


http://www.metafilter.com/94464/Massive-RightWing-Censorship-Of-Digg-Uncovered
posted by cthuljew at 7:32 PM on August 5, 2010


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