Milling for advertisers’ attention

Content mill (aka content farm) is a metaphor rife with image possibilities – there are content millers, grist for the content mill, and, most challenging, the concept of winnowing the wheat from the chaff. The content mill itself is a handy term for an industry that is either the bane of journalists and searchers – or a job for free lance writers.

By loose definition, a content mill is a business that pays people low sums to acquire massive amounts of Web content. The content is entirely geared to the voracious search engine – the name of the game is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The strategy is to pitch the content to the advertiser. It’s all about volume. Quick and dirty content on hot topics amounts to ad revenue for the site, though not for the hapless scribe.

Still, the reality of the day is that there are squadrons of unemployed or underemployed writers for whom the lure of writing for content mills is irresistible. For writers it’s a paycheck more than a moral commitment to corporate aggrandizement. Kimberly Ben, who manages the Avid-writerblogspot summarizes the pluses for writers:
1) writing for content mills is less stressful, 2) [writers] don’t have to spend time marketing for private clients, 3) writers can put more focus on writing for themselves, and 4) you can crank out several articles quickly. Hard for the starving artist to resist the lure.

Implicit as the influence of the content mill may be, the industry is neither a benign nor welcome contributor to the blogosphere. Major content generators, particularly Demand Media, Associated Content and AOL, have been grinding out a fine mix of wheat and chaff for some time. Experienced web searchers have been agitated, aggravated and downright grumpy about the pollution of web content for ages. Still, the tipping point seems to be Spring 2010 when financially troubled Yahoo acquired mass content producer Associated Content.

A host of vested interests hoisted a digital red flag.

At this writing, these interests are coalescing. A recent player, the Internet Content Syndication Council, represents some major content generators including Reuters and The Tribune Company. ICSC is circulating a document that lays out a framework for a position paper on online content syndication. Addressing the inclusion of milled content, that document reads “to counter this threat, the Internet Content Syndication Council believes the time has come to start an industry discussion about the best way to preserve standards of quality for informational content.” There’s talk about modifying the Google algorithm to consider the factor of quality – what a concept!

The stalwarts who still care about quality of information – and who eschew digital garbage – welcome any discussion of quality. One can only hope that advertisers will see the light. It could be that a united nudge from the public could make a different at this juncture when the winnowing process is in motion.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they do grind exceeding small.

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