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An article in Wired.com [wired.com], entitled "The Answer Factory: Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell" explains, in somewhat painful detail, how a company called "Demand Media" - which operates sites such as EHow.com, is perfecting the mass manufacturing of "content" - reducing . . . err perfecting . . the manufacture of "profitable" content through data mining, algorithmic topic/title selection, and outsourcing a la "Mechanical Turk" - breaking down article writing into components and steps that are distributed to vast masses of workers being paid $15.00 an article and $1.00 for fact checking and $2.50 for editing and $.08 for article title rewriting and . . .
READ THIS ARTICLE if your life/livelihood is in any way tied to Adsense.
The latest production target of this operation is to hit 1,000,000 new "articles" a month.
And guess what? Like Wikipedia what's the chance of a manmoth website like EHow.com ranking for words and phrases . . that appear in their articles?
Brought to you by . . Made profitable by . . Underwritten by . .
Mind boggling. So much a better world than I thought the Web would ever produce. :P
I already hate to use the web when I am having a serious technical query (e.g. PC problems). All I find is questions, questions, questions and fluffy articles surrounded by ads. But no answers. It's really annoying.
I have been working on a new project. More often than not, I can go through the top 200 results in G, Bing and Yahoo without finding a single piece of useful information.
Although it is very frustrating, I should become the web authority quickly. The competition is weak. Another benefit is the rediscovery of books. I have read more books in the last three months than in the last five years.
1: Find out what terms users are searching for
2: Calculate how much advertisers will pay to appear on pages that include terms from (1)
3: Check competition for terms from (1)
There is nothing revolutionary going on here - reminds me of the old "Do you have a best paying keyword list for Adsense" question.
4: Expand the term (this is the work of the 'Knowledge engine' according to the article).
5: Estimate the 'life time value' of the term.
IMO the Wired piece is written in a 'breathless' style. The journo does not appear to know much about SEM and there are boatloads of unstated assumptions. For example the LTV of a page supposedly assumes a page one ranking and a high ranking at that. And I doubt many of us here would make such an solid assumption about the permanence of a SERP.
IMO what is new about this business is the provision of cheap content at scale, and an editorial process of determining the topics (match topic to high paying keyword list). All of the other stuff in the article about flashing lights and mysterious 'intelligent' algorithms is just bunkum.
And clearly the CEO has been successful at doing this.
I am unhappy (and envious of this guy) because it takes me weeks to get an article up and running - limited access to experts, limits on the experts' time, editorial, QA, etc, etc. This guy can get several (if not hundreds) of articles up a day. And Google thinks the articles are adequate.
Underwritten by . .
People like me, who write the original articles they use as "research". It is kind of depressing. I've had at least one article completely copied verbatim and another simply rewritten. They didn't even bother to change the title, which is otherwise a completely unique title of all the articles on the Internet.
It's all over the Web, though...not limited to the big article sites. Something about easy copy/paste and the vulnerability of new unregulated media (think the Wild West and cattle rustling), people's tendency to define themselves using text other people write (Whah? But I just posted the article on a social network 'cause I liked it--why, it's just like wearing a T-shirt with a catchy slogan!), convenient misconceptions (it's free promotion for them, hey?), maybe even subconscious conceptual ideas of the meaning of online intellectual property (Well, gee, posting articles is sorta like blogging, and blogging is so personal, and personal stuff is like letters and stuff, y'know, and who'd bother to defend those copyrights...?)...not to mention fuzzy morality, since people with multiple roles and userIDs are more easily able to ignore hypocrisy and accountability for their ethical actions (He copied me! He actually copied me! Sure, I've copied some text here and there, but that was different...how dare he!)
And sometimes people honestly don't realize articles are "monetized." And other times, they're very aware of it and know exactly what they're doing.
But I think we're going to see a lot more of this before it gets better. Because at root, the problem is that what used to be tangible property with a paper trail, not easily copied, is now dispersed, digital property, with only tenuous links to its owner--an owner who's half-anonymous, anyway. It's practically a field of berries, waiting to be picked by any wandering gatherer. And they're hungry, and there's no sheriff or Ten Commandments to tell 'em they shouldn't.
Copyright becomes hard to defend when they've changed the words, and who has the most lawyers? I don't believe all of these $15 articles will all be completely original either.
It's a big worry for me. I can't continue spending 2 or 3 days per "article" when someone is going to summarise it for $15 and outrank me for it (they will outrank me - who do you think has the most links?).
It's going to come down to ethics. I don't see that working, so the only thing I can see defending my work are lots of supporting photos with really difficult to remove watermarks.
News content is mass produced. Should the NYTimes be reviled because they scaled up from the way Benjamin Franklin used to churn it out?
While newsrooms may look like factories, the content in the NYTimes is hardly mass produced. Major stories in big newspapers get a lot of care and feeding and are often the products of weeks or months of work.
Just because an organization produces a lot of something doesn't mean it's shoddy. Hyundai makes a lot of cars but so does Porsche. It's up to consumers to find the car, article, entertainment that fits their needs, budget and taste.
I occasionally have discussions with would-be purchasers of my content-rich site. All of them have dreams of eliminating my staff and free-lance writers and replacing them with "outsourced" material, which seems to be code for mechanically stolen/reproduced stories. While recycling may be good for beer cans, it's not that great for journalism and most readers are able to tell fresh, nutritious content from yesterday's refuse.
Part of the problem for me is that I like the "wiki" element of online content. Being able to have many people work on the same material means that over time, the material can improve through the organic engine that is collective human creativity. (Hear those violins?)
I was hired for a critiquing/rewriting job that was like that, and it worked beyond my wildest dreams. We collectively produced something very good, from what was initially an extremely rough draft.
For me, there is even a virtue to "recycling" if information is presented in a way that's more easily palatable to readers--which is the equivalent of taking a different slant. If someone can rewrite my articles to make them recognizably more concise, better organized, more powerful, and easier to understand, that means they provided added value, and...well...serves me right for not doing it that way, myself. There's a quote in a Diana Wynne Jones book, "Deep Secret"--I don't remember the exact quote, but it's said by a writer character. The gist is: [said stubbornly, when accused of stealing someone else's fiction idea] "Damn right, I did. If you didn't do it well the first time, your idea deserves to be stolen, and I have a moral obligation to do it, because I can."
But sharing content is for the future, if it ever happens. We're nowhere near that point. We're not cooperative, we're competitive, because we need to be. I can't offer my content for Creative Commons licenses. I can't afford to.
And right now rewrites don't typically add value. They steal value. Because people have forgotten how to be creative. But that's going to change pretty fast.
For the record, there are a lot of things I don't like about Demand, which is why I haven't written for their writing studio in months. But I don't think they're unique in what they do by any means, just bigger.
Eventually, what visitors want to see will be what visitors see. It just takes a while. Search engines are brand spanking new still. I just hope that new generations of readers still recognize the difference by the time that happens...there's the scary Orwellian possibility that they'll never realize what they're missing...I mean, we don't, do we?
Regarding what pavlovapete, Jane Doe and others said, yeah, it's a bummer. I hope that Google and the rest start recognizing smaller, more valuable sites more consistently in the near future over (or at least, alongside) the bigger sites.
And, not to get any more off-topic than I already have, but I personally hope that happens right around the time that ultra-customizable, ultra-user-friendly websites designed for every business model imaginable and for every level of experience come cheaply ready-packaged for use, so I can de-latch from the backs of those big sites and set up shop on my own, since I'm not a coder, I'm a writer. When that happens, we'll see lots more good stuff online, is my guess (and hope). Although there's a risk that if it doesn't happen soon, the abbreviated content of the big sites will be all there is, as all the non-techie but genuine experts are wont to flock to them just to post their stuff.
It's all over the Web, though...not limited to the big article sites.
The difference with these sites is that they actually rank for terms and even outrank the original pages. The MFA sites rarely outranked the original articles.
I asked them nicely to take down the article copied exactly and they ignored me. I'm sure they have a legal department in house and I don't so there isn't much I can do and I'm sure they know that.
I'd expect a big corporation to at least run copyscape before they accept these articles. Or even just type some of the phrases into Google. But I guess at $1 an article for fact checking you get what you pay for.
But not all the articles on eHow are written by DS writers, also known as "contributing writers." Until just recently, articles by the unpaid and unedited eHow community writers weren't even put through a plagiarism checker. That seems to be changing as we speak, as now all articles are being put through an automated review before publishing.
I'm used to thinking of the site as one that's the victim of plagiarism more than it's the perpetrator. Several times a week, you'll see non-paid writers pop into the forum and shout in a panic, "They've stolen one of my eHow articles and published it at...!"
I wouldn't count their ignoring you as owing to their legal department. Truly. Their legal department would be all over a DMCA complaint if they knew about it. But like a frazzled mother, eHow wins every time by bein' buggy and disorganized. EHow's customer service is building a reputation for being, um, not there. Last time I checked their TOS, they actually specified that they have no obligation to provide customer service. They must, however, honor DMCA complaints.
If customer service didn't respond, I'd try flagging the articles and listing the reason as "Plagiarism--this article is an unauthorized copy of my own, published earlier."
One thing to be said--eHow is VERY responsive to flagged articles. It takes a while, but the articles go zap if they break the rules. I keep having this vision of all this busy activity behind the door marked "Flagging Review," but the "Customer Service" door being a broom closet.
I hope you get it resolved. If not, since eHow articles are plagiarized so much, the article's likely to end up copied again and again, over time, and maybe end up at a "free articles" site. I hate sending those letters out. "Take this down, damn your hide--but if you were innocent and got this off a free article site, well, too bad, it's hot, so give it over!" Bleh.
"but I don't recall seeing too many by-lines with the author's credentials for speaking to the subject"
It's not there period.
They do a laughable job of "borrowing" my expertise.
"Webwork, have you browsed the eHow site? Much of their content is link worthy and people genuinely find it useful"
Definitely not in my industry, but for people that don't know any better perhaps they think.."hey this is how to do it!"
What a mess.
"The Answer Factory: Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell"
They are yet another top rankers absolutely without any content, but 1 line articles (less then 10 words) rank on top for months
*(Specially when some new product/news releases are out in market, where people tend to search for same)
Another example like yahoo answers (although yahoo is attached here)
We're all doomed! DOOMED I tell ya.
Seriously we are. I can't compete with that sitewide link rate with pages that take me 2 days each to write. And I feel Google are biased towards sitewide links over page links. I could compete on links to individual pages but will likely be doomed before that ever has a chance to happen.
Actually Google judging links to a site rather than to a page does help me out sometimes, but I can't understand why they don't accept that people link to stuff that shows up in their searches. Surely with the current ranking system that prevents good new stuff from competing with made for adsense rubbish.
On that topic, I'm sick to death of getting a list of file sharing sites from Google when I search for a musician or band.
This is likely to get worse before it gets better (if at all), unfortunately. Maybe there will be a swing back to manual indexing of sites a la ye olde Yahoo!?
The actual biz model that ehow use isn't the worry, it's Google's slavish adoration of their crap (sorry, but it is) content.
I think it is their Achilles heel right now. If I were in charge of Bing or Yahoo I'd differentiate my search engine by excluding those sites with the "written in 20 minutes cuz I'm only making $5 an article and my editor makes even less" sites.
Inbound links are not necessarily a sign of quality. They are only a sign that the site was the first site that showed in Google for some obscure long tail search. We're dealing with people here!
I could probably show up in more long tails myself if I didn't spend 2 days writing each page. With the alternative being writing rubbish I'll rely on Google sorting themselves out rather than adjust my work.
I have the opportunity right now to ask THE expert in my field to write for me. He would be fantastic. He writes well and was the actual designer of many of the things he might write about.
Visitors will notice this and take home some great information. Yet we'll still be outranked by boilerplate rubbish.
Having good information will not be important for Search until Google (or a new and better search engine that people can turn to) can figure out what good information is, and figure out when people are linking to good information and not the first thing they found on Google.
For Google to promote sites just because they are number 1 on Google is dangerous. That only keeps them at number 1. I can't see any mechanism for sites to fall in search to allow new sites in.
I shouldn't talk too much for fear of Google gettijng around the problem just by banning sites completely from search. In my view something to detect the sites that are promoted through people linking to no.1 would be the key. But I'm not a PHD so will have missed things.