Content farms and the ongoing democratization of journalism

Critics say user-generated networks like Bleacher Report are just SEO-driven content farms that generate “clickbait” posts designed to drive low-quality traffic — but they also provide the opportunity for writers to show their abilities without having to work their way through the traditional media ecosystem.

Today in Social

Regular readers know I’m not religiously opposed to so-called content farms – businesses that create content to match search keywords – but it’s a tough to balance their low-cost creation model with medium-scale quality. Associated Content is all but buried in Yahoo and Demand Media is trying to raise the quality of its product, partly in response to Google’s “Panda” anti-farm algorithm and partly to try to raise ad rates. Now, it looks like the New York Times is about to unload its About.com unit, one of the original lifestyle-content semi-pro sites. About used to be the engine of the Times’ digital ads business, but it hasn’t responded well to competitors or Panda, and the Times hasn’t been able to mold it into effective branded content offers. It may be the end of an era, but not the end of the concept.

Are robots and content farms the future of the news?

The Chicago Tribune has laid off most of its hyper-local unit and hired what some describe as a “content farm,” while other outlets are using content that is generated by algorithms. Is this the future of news, and if so should we be happy about it?

The NYT doesn’t have a paywall; it’s a line of sandbags

Plenty of people seem convinced the New York Times paywall is working. But what does that mean? Is the NYT getting readers to pay? Yes. But the long-term value of that is still an open question — and a paywall remains a fundamentally defensive strategy.

Digg launches Newswire, but will anyone care?

Digg has launched a new feature called Newswire that it hopes can make it a player again in the field of social news-sharing services — but after a disastrous redesign and the departure of its founder, can copycat features bring back any of Digg’s faded glory?

Today in Social

The war against search “spam” continues. Blekko, that uses human curators to qualify results and displays refined searches via slashtags, did a major update on how it shows results. And Google is rolling out the latest update to its Panda technology that is mostly aimed at diluting the influence of content farms. I’ve said before that Google’s search results spam problem may be more an issue for the digerati than the masses, but nonetheless, Google finds itself forced to respond regularly. Some gush a bit at Blekko, which is hardcore anti-content farm, but it feels like a niche offering. Even Blekko admits it needs to grow five or ten times before it starts to make a mark on search. And regular readers know I’m skeptical on social search overall.

Today in Social

It’s kind of quiet on the social media news front today, so I’ll point to this deal between Demand Media and L’Oreal USA. The beauty company is commissioning advertorial content from Demand, who will use it to populate its own beauty sites and channels and create a YouTube channel for L’Oreal. Reportedly, L’Oreal had a bake-off among 10 possible producers, and Demand won. This kind of content works perfectly well in the fashion and beauty category, and is part of a concentrated effort by Demand to raise its content “quality” – and ad rates – in the face of Google’s search algorithm changes. This will add costs to Demand’s business model, but getting a sponsor to help foot the bill is creative, to say the least.

Today in Social

A German SEO tools company’s analysis shows that a new tweak of Google’s search algorithm has driven search results page-placement down for content farm Demand Media’s biggest site. Demand’s stock is being hammered today, even though the company says its traffic hasn’t been dramatically affected. (A CNET attempt to measure the algorithm change’s effects is unconvincing – its methodology seems pretty light to me.) Matthew Ingram points out that Demand will find creating higher quality content adds expenses to its low-cost model that we wrote about in this piece. Demand told me recently that it has been hiring editors and installing procedures to raise quality. We’ll have to wait for traffic data from the measurement companies (comScore, Nielsen, Hitwise) to see whether Demand has really been affected, and if its response works.

Google is Demand Media’s Biggest Ally — and Its Biggest Threat

Demand Media says the latest changes to Google’s algorithm aren’t a big deal, even though they pushed its eHow unit down by as much as 65 percent, according to some estimates — but the reality is that Google is both Demand’s biggest partner and its biggest threat.