Three years ago a terrible collection of beasts rose from the sea and threatened the Internet we love so dear. These “content farms” churned out low quality prose in SEO-friendly formats to try and garner traffic from Google and other search engines. This traffic was then converted into dollars via ads, affiliate programs, commerce offers — anything that would yield a profit.
In February 2011 Google started making more specific changes to its algorithms addressing repetitive, simplistic websites. Traffic to these farms decreased – often dramatically – and it was no longer an attractive business. Some companies dried up, others pivoted to focus on content with greater depth.
The past six months have seen a rebirth of the “content farm,” although one might call them “content farms for good.” Quora, Svbtle, Medium, and LinkedIn Influencers are four of the most prominent examples of a movement towards “higher quality” content on the web.
Why do I lovingly refer to them as “content farms?”
- “Article” based construction: most readers experience these not as sites but as posts, single page websites. Some of this is in their construction, lots of it is tied to the way they’re discovered via social media. The link at the end of a tweet.
- Silos of Crosspromotion: to various degrees, you come for one article and get effectively crosspromoted to see more from within the network. Often from many different authors.
- Building Tools/Services to Remove Publishing Friction: Whether lightweight CMS, LinkedIn’s Editors or Medium’s increasing staffing of what seems to be a creative services team, these services aren’t just giving you a web authoring tool, they’re removing the obstacles to creation – what should I write about.
Where as Content Farms 1.0 tried to maximize the financial return of volumes of content, 2.0 try to maximize the quality of volumes of content.
And so why now? Why do we see this trend towards curated crowd-sourced article-based content?
- Curation: Too much content, next wave of services to produce higher signal output
- More writers: As generations grow up on the web, more people are ready to write and express themselves but not all want standalone blogs; not all who want standalone blogs want to deal with the management of the site and the promotion of their content.
- Accepting Meritocracy in the Byline: Similarly, these generations that have grown up on the web are also willing to read something even if it’s not produced by a writer attached to a media brand. Or eventually these “Content Farms for Good” become the reputable brand.
What am I finding about my writing behavior and these new services? Well, I still do most of my publishing on this blog because I like having my own dry piece of land. I also contribute to LinkedIn because it seems to reach a different audience and enjoy seeing what gets popular there. Published to Medium once or twice but right now doesn’t have enough engagement with readers for me. Svbtle, I haven’t been invited, nor applied, and don’t think it’s really for me. And Quora I enjoy answering questions from time-to-time but currently have zero interest in creating a blog.
Personally I don't understand why people would write on Svbtle or Medium instead of Tumblr. I'm still new to Tumblr(ing?), but it seems to have all of the advantages of these services (built-in cross promotion, high engagement, easy setup, social to the core, easy to use interface, frictionless publishing, etc.) while getting rid of the problems (low engagement with audience, smaller readership, not owning your content/site).
They each have a purpose, but Tumblr is like a cruise ship for everyone while these 2.0 content farms are like canoes (albeit, incredibly high-quality canoes).
Well-written and cogently argued. I think you're on to something here. However, I think the term “content farm” is close but not quite right in this context. Instead, these are “content communes” where users are being ushered in with promises of community-raised produce (hey! we made this! we built this! but we don't … own this?) and respect of their peers.
But, I think you're right, Hunter. This is just a new round in the same game. Great post, would read again.
Interesting post…Personally, rather than searching google, I now sometimes find myself going to Quora to find answers to things. This seems valuable.
Ok, totally didn't see the cruise ship v canoe analogy coming 🙂
You're right, new terms are needed
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