I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about what I’ve inelegantly called the rise of “crap content.” I like better RWW’s “content farms” and TechCrunch’s “fast food content” to describe the new “content factories” (i.e., Demand Media and AOL). The following is from an AOL editor’s email via Business Insider:
The email, from an editor at AOL site RentedSpaces.com, encourages writers to produce 300-500 word stories fast in a style that’s “colorful, concise, [and] opinionated.” But he doesn’t want them to go too far.
“We’re not Gawker, so be friendly and authoritative.”
He tells them stories don’t have to be based on original reporting. He writes, “All we want to know for a pitch is: what’s the story, who broke it (AP, NYT, BW, Bloomberg,etc.), and how you will advance the story if you are following someone else’s reporting,” reads the email.
When writers file their copy, they’re expected to “Include 140 characters for a Tweet or Facebook update.”
AOL wants its editors to write in a way that will help Google will find their stories — that they’re “search engine optimized.” For example, the RentedSpaces editor tells his staffers to “make sure the first few words and first graf contain the critical keywords.”
Now VC Fred Wilson has written a post riffing of these ideas. It’s very consistent with some thoughts I’ve recently been having. He talks about how social networks may become increasingly relied upon as search results potentially turn into what I would contend is the online equivalent of cable TV: a wasteland of content.
We now can’t imagine the digital world without Google at its (epi)center, but a time will surely come when Google isn’t. Is that day 5, 10, 20 or 30 years from now?
I don’t know the timing, but I do know that Google’s importance and centrality to the online ecosystem and the corresponding greater and greater focus on SEO has spawned the following model and emphasis:
- Low paid freelancers (or unpaid UGC bloggers) write short stories off press releases or original reporting somewhere else (often borderline plagarism)
- Those “content” pages are optimized for search results primarily to drive page views (for display ad CPMs). The ad is the reason for the content, which is necessary to permit indexing
- Quality is banished in favor of speed and quantity
Much of the “quality” content from traditional media — granted there is much crap coming from traditional media too — that was indexed in search results is giving way to the crap because the business models that supported quality content creation (writers, editors) are being undermined by the Internet.
In the future quality exists, and indeed becomes more important, but it becomes potentially harder to find. In this not-so-hypothetical future search remains important. But because of increasing noise in search results (or the return of noise), trust and potentially greater efficiency, people turn to word of mouth on social sites with increasing frequency.
It’s a highly plausible theory.