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OPLIN 4Cast #209: Content farms

Posted in 4cast

plant growing articlesEver visited a content farm? Chances are you have, at least online. “Content farm” is the slightly derisive term for a company that hires freelance writers to create online articles answering the most common questions people post on the Internet. One of the best-known of these companies is Demand Media, which prides itself on giving people articles about the information they want, but online journalists sometimes refer to such articles as “sludge” written by amateurs with no fact-checking and little editorial oversight. Because these articles meet an existing demand and are thus accessed often on the Internet, they tend to rise to the top of search engine results—something to keep in mind next time you use Google for answering a reference question.

  • Lessons from the content farm (AdWeek/Robertson Barrett)  “Demand Media has turned traditional journalism on its head, flipping the model to create content that meets user demand, and using algorithms to determine which content makes the most money. For better or worse, its strategy has been effective. Search for anything from ‘how to bake a yellow cake’ to ‘how to belch,’ and you’ll find Demand Media content at the top of the search results.”
  • Don’t blame the content farms (PBS MediaShift/Dorian Benkoil)  “Rather than a small group of editors surmising what a community might want, algorithms from Demand Media, AOL and others process search queries and social media, glean what’s wanted, then use other pieces of technology to calculate the likely value; they then quickly find writers or producers at a profitable price, assign and produce the content, attach money-making ads, and pay the ‘content creators’ in a streamlined way.”
  • Top Trends of 2010: content farms (ReadWriteWeb/Richard MacManus)  “By the end of last year, two of these content farms—Demand Media and—were firmly established inside the top 20 Web properties in the U.S. as measured by comScore. This year, Demand Media filed for IPO and two big Internet portals—AOL and Yahoo!—joined the trend.”
  • Why “content farm” news sites face an inevitable crash (CBS Interactive Business Network/Jim Edwards)  “Mostly, money is still rushing into online news content even though few of these properties have profitable business models. This is not sustainable. Something has got to give. First, it will start to drive down even further the price companies are willing to pay for new content. […] The worst, least-useful sites will go to the wall. A handful of good ones will dominate the post-crash landscape. At that point, they better figure out a way to raise advertising prices in the long-term.”

Wage fact:
According to a copy editor who worked for Demand Media this past summer, freelance writers make $15-30 per article, and the copy editors make $3.50 per article.