While looking for some help online on how to make a kaleidoscope, I came across a lot of ‘how to’ videos. I am sure you have seen them too. What amazed me was that there was a ‘how to’ video on almost anything I could think of. Then I saw this video on how to draw will smith from memory. It’s clear that the artist is fake. There were more really stupid videos which made me wonder why would anyone make these?
It all makes sense in this article on readwriteweb.com by Richard MacManus explaining the rise of ‘content farms’ such as Answers.com and Demand Media. These companies mass produce content based on the demand generated by web searches. To simplify, this is done using algorithms that determine which keywords have more demand and less supply. Since 80% of all web searches are informational (that uses words like how to, what is etc.), huge search traffic is driven to these websites. And it works. As techcrunch points out, even google’s own brother sister AD show top results from content farms like ehow and about.com. Wired.com explains the business model in detail.
The quality of content is low to medium as freelancers are commissioned to write stories at roughly $5-$20 per article. One such freelancer Anne Gentle for Demand Media writes about her experience.
The issue here is not that they are producing low quality content. One can argue that the internet is as it is flooded with such content. In fact, some of this mass produced content is not that bad. Problem is that search engines cannot filter out low quality content targeted at the search results page. It’s important to understand the effect this has on Google. The more low quality results Google produces, the less relevant it becomes; especially since real time search and information shared on social networks are directly competing. It will be interesting to see how Google handles this invasion of smart page view generating machines. MacManus and Jeff Jarvis offer their suggestions.