This is a fantastic series of articles (links further down) from ReadWriteWeb. In particular, it’s about Demand Media, a company that generates more content than perhaps anyone on the Web right now. But in general, it’s about content farms (or “content mills”) – sites that pump out massive amounts of low-quality content to sell ad impressions.
As of May 2009, Demand Media claimed to have created more than 500,000 unique pieces of content – at a staggering rate of about 2,000 pieces of content per day!
They have a system that’s machine-guided but human-powered:
The system starts with an automated process, crunching data and running it through an algorithm to identify story ideas that have the best chance of success. The algorithm factors in audience type, ability to attract advertising and potential for traffic. For a written piece of content, human editors will then check the top story contenders. Potential titles are placed into a pool for writer selection. Once a writer picks up a story, it gets written up, goes through a fact checking and copy editing process (including a plagiarism check), and finally the editorial team approves the completed article. The article is eventually published and the writer gets paid.
This is a simplification of the Demand Studios process, which happens 4,000 times every day!
While the content is low-quality, it’s working well for them:
It’s easy to be cynical about Demand Media – it creates truckloads of content very cheaply, uses social websites like YouTube to make it viral, and gets tons of page views as a result. But… it works. Demand Media earns more than $200 million in annual revenues, according to BusinessWeek.
Whether we like it or not, success on the Web mostly comes from quantity and not quality.
Wired profiled the same company in October: The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model . The opening paragraph is depressing.
Christian Muñoz-Donoso is going to make this job pay, he’s got to move quickly. He has a list of 10 videos to shoot on this warm June morning, for which he’ll earn just $200. To get anything close to his usual rate, he’ll have to do it all in two hours. As he sets up his three video cameras on the rocky shore of a man-made lake in Huntington, Massachusetts, he thinks about the way things used to be. He once spent two weeks in a bird blind in his native Chile to capture striking footage of a rarely seen Andean condor. But those jobs are almost as endangered as that bird. Now he trades finesse for speed.
In the end, for all its mystical powers, Google gets gamed a lot, and it’s now getting pushed back to its fundamental reason for existence: how to you sift through the crap and generate quality search results?
Here are the articles in the series from ReadWriteWeb:
- Demand Media Is a Page View Generating Machine – And it’s Working
- How Demand Media Produces 4,000 Pieces of Content a Day
- Ad-Driven Content – Is it Crossing The Line?
- wikiHow vs. eHow: Is The Wiki Way Better Than Content Farms?
- Content Farms: Why Media, Blogs & Google Should Be Worried
- How Google Can Combat Content Farms
This makes me a little sad, I guess. The reality is, you can succeed with crap content because search engine traffic is fickle. You know what the top five posts on this blog were for the last month?
- Lightkeeper Pro Review (this one is always big around Christmas)
- The Cell Phone Water Detection Sticker
- Expressions in CSS
- Nerf Sniper Rifle
With the exception of that top one (and that one is aided by the holidays), none of these things are great examples of journalism. But they got lodged in Google for various reasons, and they drive a ton of traffic.
Other posts, of which I’m very proud, get relatively nothing for traffic. And this is because the vast majority of traffic comes from Google, not other blogs or referring sites. The former is machine powered, the latter human powered.
But, you say, Google is human powered! It has PageRank! Okay, then why do content farms work so well? Why does crap content get so much traffic? (Yes, yes, I know – my examples are probably just because of the volume of searches – more people want to know about a Nerf Sniper Rifle than want to know about content management. Fools.)
Michael Arrington sums my feelings up best in his post called – sadly — The End of Hand-Crafted Content:
So what really scares me? It’s the rise of fast food content that will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that hand craft their content today. It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.
[…] These models create a race to the bottom situation, where anyone who spends time and effort on their content is pushed out of business.
I just died a little on the inside.