User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Farming the Web

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Farming the Web

Articles appeared on the web earlier this week describing Google's ongoing attempt to elevate the ratings of sites with "original" content and send to the Internet basement listings from so-called "content farms", which are owned by businesses that hire legions of part-time amateur writers to crank out articles for a few dollars apiece.

The operators of the content farms claim that their product provides an alternative perspective on the world because it is being produced by everyday people - usually stay-at-home housewives, rather than professional journalists who share similar backgrounds and have similar world views.

Google says that these articles are shallow, provide little value for the consumer and that the shear volume of the material causes it to clog up search engine results, which distracts web searchers and limits the value of Google as a tool for finding material from legitimate sources.

I believe the truth runs a little deeper.  The farm sites try to accumulate articles on subjects that provide hits on search engines and use these articles to link to advertisements.  In other words, they are basically advertising agencies and are competing against Google for the same pot of revenue.  Read---Google is trying to get rid of the competition, even if it also has a more altruistic model such as cleaning up the search process.

I happen to agree there is a problem with some farming sites, because they don't pay for material.  Rather they steal it from others then repost it as their own.  No, I haven't done my homework, so I can't list the sites that snatched my stuff, but it has been a problem since day one.  One popular thing to hijack is the address list on "Christie Contributors Outed".  Type in a search for a dentist, find one on the list and get a ton of ads for other dentists, not from Google, but from the pirate link.

On the other hand, the original stuff written by all those stay-at-home moms out there isn't always useless garbage.  In fact, I think a lot of it is insightful and better than my stuff.  After all, I am doing this for nothing, so how much time do you think I really put into cleaning up these articles.  My stuff gets its quality because a lot of what I write comes from personal experience and a lot of the research - such as the information I got on farm sites - has come from research I do anyway while on the clock.

Google says the written-by-housewife product is inferior because the writers put little effort into it.  (Sounds familiar, after all I am on Blogspot, Google's own content farm).  They say that since the women are trying to make a living at it, they can crank out seven or eight stories a day which means they put little effort into each one.

So I decided to put Google's claim to the test.  The biggest player in the farm business is an outfit called Demand Media.  They produce a variety of websites including .  I went to Cracked to see how bad this trash was.  I was impressed.  A lot of the stuff on Cracked is well written.  In fact I would recommend it. The material is not bad, and the site provides a source of income for people interested in becoming freelance writers.

The bottom line.  Don't ever accept anything that authority figures say at face value without doing your own research.  You just might be surprised how often you come to a different conclusion than the so-called experts. 

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