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 eHow.com 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 eHow.com 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 LiveStrong.com 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.