Trends, commentary, and insightful rants from the bleeding edge of advertising, content & branding.

In Defense of Content Farms

"I"m a pickin' and I'm a grinnin'"

Over the last two years, there has been a universal backlash against farmed content. Demand Media and Associated Content, among others, are generating millions of articles every month, swamping search results, driving traffic to their content so they can sell ads against it. Smart strategy. Might be killing the web. You never know.

As writers, content farms are just one more herald of the end of civilization. Being a writer is already a lowly, underpaid, under-respected profession to begin with. Now we’re swamped by literally everyone with a computer and an internet connection who knows how to put two words together. There is now so much information online that to compete for any eyeballs is like slogging into a mud wrestling tournament. You hate yourself, you’re unlikely to win, and you’re just going to get slimy.

Much of the derision directed at the content farms react to the low quality of said content. Associated Content has a three-page writeup on How to Turn On Your Computer, which seems mean-spirited, taunting the people who have a doorstop with a Dell logo and can’t get online to figure this out. Google has started fighting back, lowering the page rankings of the content farms, but it’s a losing battle.

What’s getting lost in the shuffle here is that content farms provide a useful function. We’ve wandered through the assignment pages at Demand Studios, curious as to what kinds of writing topics were available. And you know what? These assignments are typically geared toward the specific and mundane, stuff that ordinary humans will never think to write about. “How to Hook Up Gauges in a Ford Super Power Stroke.” “How to Obtain Power of Attorney for the State of Mississippi.” “Passive Solar Dwellings of the Anasazi Indians.” Weird, specific, arcane, and not terribly useful. Unless you need to hook up gauges to your Ford in order to drive to Mississippi and get power of attorney for your solar-dwelling Anasazi aunt. Then, this becomes the most valuable information on Earth.

Which is, after all, the point of writing. Writers, especially, always forget that. We have been living in an age where the amount of information we had was limited enough that we could spend time making it pretty. Poetry has been steadily dying for a hundred years for a reason: words are functional creatures. We’ve been making them pretty simply because they were available, universal tools that everyone could understand. Now, you can cut a video on your iPad and stream it to millions in seconds. Old tools die. New tools emerge. I’m sure someone loved hieroglyphics, too.

We toss around the phrase “information age” like we pretend to understand it, but one thing is clear: the winners of this era are going to be the ones who process data more quickly than anyone else. We don’t have time to make it pretty. And content farms are doing the grunt work in transforming data into information we can absorb and implement. As writers, we hate the content farms. As media experts, we realize the value of what is happening. And we are paying strict attention.

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