Friday, February 18, 2011

Google's war on 'content farming' ~ By Phil Elmore

What if those reprisals harm those who've done no wrong – except in the eyes of Google's search algorithms? Digital journalist Pekka Pekkala writes eloquently of the unintended consequences of Google's crackdown, saying, "As tempting as it is to gloat over Demand Media's misfortune, the Google announcement might have severe consequences to all publishing. ... The big question is how will Google judge who is doing spammy, search-engine inspired headlines and who is doing real customer research with Google Analytics."

Gatekeeping is increasingly necessary in a society overloaded, overflowing and thoroughly saturated with information. Filtering search results of "lower quality" could benefit the user in the same way that publishers will remain relevant to electronic publishing – by screening the useless, the incompetent and the irrelevant. We must, however, ask ourselves who the gatekeepers will be ... and whether we can trust them.

By reading Phil's column today, along with all of the content at the links he provided, I learned all about "content farms," and what their purpose is. In a tiny way, this blog, "Blogging in Our Time 2 Escape," could almost qualify as a content farm. (Okay, my bad; maybe a "backyard content garden plot" would be a better description.) But just the same, the content found here does bring visitors from the search engines (mostly from Google). So, if Google is going to start using an algorithm that is going to filter out "content farms" from search results, could it have an adverse effect on this blog?

As Phil mentions in this column, we must "ask ourselves who the gatekeepers will be ... and whether we can trust them." In one of the linked articles Phil provided, I read on CNET that "Google's Personal Blocklist Chrome extension will allow users to block what they consider low-quality sites from their personalized Google results." Google will track the domains that users flag, and potentially use that information in their search results ranking algorithm. If for some reason Google tends to have users that just don't like the political slant of a blog's content, could that have a serious negative impact on various blogs?

Google's war on 'content farming'

By Phil Elmore

February 17, 2011 ~ 1:00 am Eastern

© 2011

You may not have heard of a "content farm," but if you've ever searched for popular keywords on the Web, you've seen articles "grown" on one. What you don't know is that the Internet's de facto masters have declared war on content farming. The question you must ask yourself is whether contributors to the network of networks that is the Web should be left alone to do as they will ... or if search overlords like Google should save you from yourself by ignoring this "farmed" content.

Tom Krazit, writing for CNET, reports that Google recently introduced a tool for its Chrome browser that lets users screen out results from content farms. Data collected from users' flagging of such "poorly written and sometimes nonsensical" material uploaded "for really no other reason than to appear within search results and draw traffic from Google" would (or could) be used to create a virtual blacklist. This hasn't happened yet, but Google is looking at ways to rank its search results by analyzing which sites and what material users have condemned as content-farmed.

What is the harm of content-farming, really? Technology and news analyst Mathew Ingram likens the content farm to a virtual "sweatshop," in which "digital sharecroppers" toil away for the enrichment of the intergalactic media masters who ultimately own and run the sites. Aggregators – websites that collect and archive material that serves as search engine fishing nets – thus profit largely because people are willing to volunteer their effort.
[Little of the content uploaded to aggregators], which drives a lot of traffic and comments and other valuable forms of engagement, is paid for. Writers do it because they have an idea they want to pitch, or (in too many cases) because they are self-important and like to hear themselves talk. In other words, the same reasons people write blogs ...
Every one of the contributors to those "sweatshops," after all, is an individual poster, sometimes writing to keywords for marketing purposes, but sometimes writing simply because he or she wishes to contribute content to the larger whole. There are ways to make money at it, too. "All of these writers [can conceivably] find ways of monetizing what they do," Ingram writes. "[T]hey get paid for other related services, or they write books or get paid to speak/consult and so on." Combine the possible profit motive with the natural desire of Internet contributors to see their work "published," and you've got a powerful motivation to keep farming content regardless of public reception to it. The reasons are as varied as the individuals behind the keyboards.

"While it's easy to poke some fun at [the quality of some content-farmed] articles," writes Matt Law, "it's worth remembering that there's a person behind every one of them." Many of those contributors, remember, write for nothing or close to nothing, simply for the gratification of seeing their name on a virtually published article.


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