If Content Farms Die, Science 2.0 Will Win
    By Hank Campbell | February 19th 2011 04:00 AM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    If a site like the Huffington Post takes a fair use snippet of your article here and then links to you, their snippet will rank higher in Google than your actual article in keywords related to your article.

    A little crazy but okay, you might say, they earned that, right?   With content and quality.

    Well, not really.   If, as Jason Calcanis, CEO of Mahalo claims, 80% of the Huffington Post is simply rehashing of other people’s content, then they basically earned their status by being a content farm - taking things that are out there and rebranding them to make them look like real content.   In other words, they have mastered Google and used their knowledge to get over $300 million in an AOL buyout.   That means HuffPo and Demand Media and are basically the smartest SEO companies in the world and playing by the rules Google has created.

    That's not to say there is no original content.   Obviously some blog there in the hope that they will get noticed and some sites even allow syndication there for free in hopes of reaching a higher audience.   But Huffington Post pays for syndication of the Associated Press and Reuters (1).   Fair use snippets are free.

    “It’s mind blowing to me when I see the Huffington Post beating the people who are doing the original reporting,” Calacanis said.

    But nothing new.   He takes to task, Demand Media, Associated Content and his own company as well, saying “We have to look in the mirror and ask, ‘Is this what we want create for our users?’ We are polluting the Internet.”

    Indeed they are, look at this Business Insider article mocking Mahalo's basically useless "how to play a xylophone' article, which starts with "Step 1: Be Sure You Want to Play the Xylophone"

    But they are not alone because they are for-profit nor are they wrong for desiring the $1.5 billion market capitalization Demand Media has after its recent IPO.    Non-profits game the system the same way.   For no reason I will ever be able to figure out, by the end of this year the Wikipedia entry on Science 2.0 will rank ahead of our actual Science 2.0 site in Google, despite it being poorly written, basically wrong on all counts and then hacked up by various marketing groups trying to get some attention.  I don't link to it here and, my gosh, don't do a Google search to find it, because that will just make the problem worse.

    Calcanis makes a fine point about how the Internet has fallen - it used to be that good content won but today gaming search engines does.    We could literally propel ourselves into huge traffic creating an automated rss scraper that publishes 10,000 teasers a day with links and then creating a bunch of answer-driven content, like "What is oxygen?"  or "What causes global warming?'   We'd be the of science.    

    Is there hope for the future? Google says they are not happy about search results for you being corrupted by these 'content farms', though all the companies I mentioned deny being such, they say they simply fill in gaps in Google search.    Naturally they all deny being low quality content.
    People are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.
    Calcanis put it more bluntly.  “The one rule of working with Google is don’t make them look stupid. If you make ‘The Google’ look stupid, they’ll f--- you up.   eHow, you’ve awoken a giant,”


    (1) You may recall we used to syndicate our content in the belief that it was good for you to have your byline on Reuters or some place else but, over time, it made no money and generated no traffic.  The company we once syndicated with, Pluck, got bought by Demand Media, which  raised over $350 million in equity capital to basically buy sites that aggregated content and then did an IPO.


    Hank...Welcome to the ranks of the content farm bashers, clearly a growing hobby among bloggers and a lot of angst-ridden journalists.

    If Science 2.0 isn't ranking quite where you want it to be, it could be that articles like this one are the reason. You have a kind of crazy-quilt of pot shots at Huffington Post, Demand Media, Wikipedia, eHow and Mahalo as if they're all somehow under the same "content farm" umbrella.

    If Jason Calcanis is ashamed of "polluting the Internet" with the content created at Mahalo, then so be it. Perhaps that's why I rarely see Mahalo articles show up in search results. But eHow and Demand Media produce good-quality work, and even if you don't agree, can hardly be said to be rebranding content from other sources rather than creating "real content" as you put it.

    And griping about Wikipedia as a content farm that knows how to "game the system"? Sheesh! That's one of the web's great resources, and if you think they're playing an SEO game, I don't think you've ever looked into how Wikipedia really works.

    Your real problem seems to be with search engines that are producing results not to your liking. That's a potentially legitimate complaint. But if that's issue, don't blame HuffPo or other content creators for the problem. Show your readers some actual search results, and explain where they're falling down on the job.

    You're Science 2.0 after all...a little evidence-based reporting would be much more welcome and useful than yet another let's-wring-our-hands-about-content-farms article.

    David Sarokin
    (and yes, I freelance at eHow and Demand Media).

    You make a good point - in its bubble.   Obviously you don't know me and I don't know you so you don't know I have never written about content farms, and certainly not the Huffington Post, which may be why to someone more knowledgeable this comes across as amateurish.  I wrote it watching "Johnny Bravo" while my wife played bunco so, lacking true knowledge of the ins and outs, I couldn't research it properly.   It's a blog, not a feature article here, so I went with my gut.

    Though I think it is better than those 'how to cook a turkey' articles making the companies you defend rich.  

    I think we do quite well but I confess I have no frame of reference.   I started this in my den a few years ago and we have a million readers a month and 120 million hits if you search for Science 2.0 on Google.   Without a lick of SEO expertise.   Also without a $1.5 billion market cap or $300+ million from AOL so, if the metric is monetary success success, we are strictly low rent.

    And heck, I am sure not begrudging anyone in the free market who figured out to do something I never thought of - namely reverse the process and write articles to attract searches and get rich rather than simply write good stuff and hope people find it.    But that's the difference between us and eHow.    Since you are paid to do write, and are not a xylophone expert, you are going to write whatever your client tells you to write about, including xylophones, whether you know anything or not.   We hope that if people do find us, on page 50 after all the keyword bait sites, they get a little smarter rather than get a mishmash of other content someone took 50 seconds to write.

    (I never thought all that much of Calcanis either and never see Mahalo, but I liked his honesty and even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, right?)
    I hope this is bringing traffic here, Hank....else he's beating you with spam links

    From my perspective, I don't understand why farming content is treated any differently to copying music/video CDs/DVDs.....

    If one is copyright theft, howso not the other?

    Told ya they were the smartest SEO people in the world - but they think they are better content and that we're somehow failures for not trying to emulate their practices.   When Google decides to do something about it, it will get weird for them.  The big guys in this already made their money.

    I never see Demand Media in search, that I know of, but I know never to click on eHow or Associated Content or any of that other stuff because I know it is written by someone who got paid 5 bucks, not because they had any clue what they were talking about.

    (and we have nofollow on anonymous links so the only value to them is if anyone actually clicks the link - this kind of post being outside our sweet spot, I predict a record low for readership)
    It's the story of the Hilltop Algorithm...why does Wikipedia rank first and the actual study come in 7th?

    Google has listened - if this isn't a shot at the content farms, I don't know what is.  Good thing HuffPo and Demand Media already got their money.
    in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
    Sounds cool.....but time will tell Aitch
    There you go, shooting from the hip again.

    eHow actually seems to have benefitted from Google's new algorithm, as its own content was relatively untouched while content from other sites -- with less of a focus on producing good quality material -- are no longer competitive in search results. The quantitative evidence is out there, if you bother to look for it.

    I don't begrudge you expressing your opinion, but please...don't mask it as having anything to do with science.

    David Sarokin

    You're contending the people who pay you are producing 'good quality material' while others are not.   To many of us, including virtually every commenter on every article that covered this when Google made the change, an eHow result is a warning.

    Google is in a tough place - they can't get into dictating what is quality or not in too aggressive a fashion - but they can help.   Oddly, every one of the companies everyone knows are content farms say they are not and that Google 'helped' them with this change.   We'll have to see. 
    "...Oddly, every one of the companies everyone knows are content farms say they are not and that Google 'helped' them with this change..."

    Boy. You just make up whatever facts you need. That's incredibly convenient. Wish we could do that at eHow.

    You can just copy and paste my words here when you need them - that's what you already do at eHow.
    OK. Thanks.

    Demand Media has been in the red from day 1. They have a lot of wall street guys involved and use wonky accounting. Every few months google tweaks their algorithms and kills these content farms. HuffingtonP is sort of its own thing because of the nature of news imo.

    I would disregard anything Calcanis says. He didn't make his money from knowing anything about the internet. His maowhowo project or whatever is a complete joke and goes against everything the internet is about.

    At some point expertise becomes just being around a long time - not having every site be a home run. If I start a new site on organic dog food and it flops it, that doesn't mean I don't know how to publish on the Internet.  So it's hard to say how much real knowledge he has but I tend to give people a break if even I have heard of them.

    Google tweaking or not, content farms are still at the top of search results so they know Google better than Google does.