Strong opinions, weakly held

Spammers gaming Google

Paul Kedrosky has a good post on the latest trend that lowers the value of the Web, content farming:

Google has become a snake that too readily consumes its own keyword tail. Identify some words that show up in profitable searches — from appliances, to mesothelioma suits, to kayak lessons — churn out content cheaply and regularly, and you’re done. On the web, no-one knows you’re a content-grinder.

Via Michael Sippey.

Update: John Battelle has a more optimistic take.


  1. For years I’ve avoided Google for certain types of searches, but it’s true things seem to be getting worse. We’re planning a move to a new town in a few months and searching for the most basic information on grocery stores, internet access, etc, only results in a morass of useless pages that have no real content at all, and certainly nothing remotely local. The yellow pages sites are the worst offenders in this particular case. Lots more digging by hand has revealed sites that have the information I need, but Google can’t find them via obvious search strings.

  2. (just a proofing note: your link to “content farming” just brings one back to rc3.org — not sure where it was supposed to go… self-referential much? 😉

  3. The Wired article on Demand Media (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_demandmedia/) cracked me up. Because in all honesty there really is a gap between “All the questions one might ask a search engine” and “All the answers available on the Internet”. Most technically savvy people know that and mentally filter out all such ineffectual queries before they think of typing them into Google. A lot of other people don’t search for things that search engines are good at finding (hence the success of sites like Let Me Google That For You) but do search for things they are terrible at finding. Like “How to Be Popular in School”.

    Now there is something painfully funny to me about actual people devoting actual days of their lives to churning out half-assed articles and videos about almost-nonsensical subjects they know nothing about, but it’s not just the absurdity of the thing, but I find it absolutely fascinating to watch people figure out what a new medium is good for. The full-length feature film is such a staple of modern life that we don’t spend a lot of time wondering why we don’t go to the movie theater to watch the news or to keep up on soap operas – we just don’t. But the feature film had to evolve; it didn’t emerge fully formed from the lens of the first movie camera.

    Well, what’s happening is the evolution of the search-engine-centric web into what it’s particularly good at. It’s the machine that can answer any question asked of it. The first stage was making a machine that can answer some questions well. Done. From that we can extract information on the questions that were asked but were not answered well. Okay, that’s done. Now we know something about what knowledge is missing from the web. The hilariously low-rent attempts by Demand Media et al to fill in the gaps are the equivalent of the individual gold miners in the Gold Rush – they’re grabbing a small amount of the potential value available by doing the half-assed job they can in the absence of greater investment and better mechanisms for rewarding the answering of questions. If “How to be Popular in School” is a question worth answering, a good answer will arise, a better one than the one Demand Media has out there right now. But it will be because the content farmers put out the markers for what makes money.

    That doesn’t mean I’m personally impressed with content-farm sites when I’m looking for real information. But I’m not sure I buy that it’s the content farms that are drowning out the “real” information out there. A lot of the time there isn’t any real information out there; encountering a content farm is just a time-wasting way of finding that out.

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