How tall was Abraham Lincoln? Biography.com tells us he was six feet four.
What is the currency of Aruba? WorldTravelGuide.net says it’s the Arubin Florin.
What are the health benefits of walnuts? Healthmad.com suggests, “Besides containing antioxidants, beans originating from Europe is also increasing immunity/immune body.”
Yes, one of the brutal truths of the Internet is that, while there’s plenty of information to be found, not all of it has value. There’s a great deal, in fact, that’s being cranked out by random writers who may or may not be experts in the topics they’re writing about – and who may or may not understand the language they’re writing in. They’re simply doing it for the money and selling their stuff to Web sites known as “content farms.”
Some of the Web’s content-farmed text is obvious. That quote about antioxidants, for example, comes from a write-up titled “Sleeping is Difficult to Cope with Walnuts?” Most of us would recognize that as a good article to skip.
But other content farms aren’t quite so clear to the casual reader. They present articles that are written more or less comprehensibly – but in truth, the information is hacked out by people who know little or nothing about the topics. The authors have simply rounded up some facts, quickly rewritten them, and sent their stuff off to the farm. The going price is usually about $5 to $15 per piece, but sometimes it’s as little as five cents.
In an article written last summer for MediaShift, a section of PBS.org, author Corbin Hiar interviewed a number of writers who had worked for content farms, and their comments were telling. The most interesting, perhaps, came from a journalism graduate from a prestigious school, who had previously gone into content-farm writing for some temporary income. As she summed up the work, “I was completely aware that I was writing crap.”
The tacky business model that content farms rely on – crank out as much low-cost content as you can, then sit back while the page hits and AdSense bucks roll in – was probably an inevitable step in the snake-oily, new-frontier progress of the Web. But if we’re lucky, such monetization machines won’t last forever. In fact, the content farms’ gig may soon be up.
Search engine companies are fielding complaints that the content farms’ strategy hits us all far too often, populating our earnest searches with useless, low-quality stuff. Now Google and others are considering how to filter out the offenders, and we may soon have an opportunity to block these sites from our search hits.
Until then, of course, it’s up to each of us to carefully evaluate any information we stumble across – online, and everywhere else.
Oh – and don’t bother Googling “How to avoid content farms in your search hits.” I’ve already tried it, and apparently nobody’s cranked out that article yet.