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Kudzu Content

Over the weekend, I was reading ReadWrite Web and TechCrunch about ‘content farms’ like Demand Media and the new Aol.

MacManus and Arrington are deeply worried about what they see (MacManus):

So is the Web becoming awash with low-quality content produced by content farms like Demand Media, and now AOL? Yes it is.

From my analysis of Demand Media and similar sites, such content is very generic and lacks depth. While I wouldn’t go as far as wikiHow founder Jack Herrick and say that it “lacks soul,” it certainly lacks passion and often also lacks knowledge of the topic at hand. Arrington’s analogy with fast food is apt – it is content produced quickly and made to order.


So what really scares me? It’s the rise of fast food content that will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that hand craft their content today. It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.

On one end you have AOL and their Toyota Strategy of building thousand of niche content sites via the work of cast-offs from old media. That leads to a whole lot of really, really crappy content being highlighted right on the massive AOL home page. This article, for example, is just horrendous. One of AOL’s own blogs trashes the company’s spinoff, rambles for miles without any real point, and adds a huge factual error to top things off (“the company is losing money”). Hiring a bunch of people who couldn’t keep their old media jobs and don’t have the stomach to go out on their own and then slapping little or no editorial oversight onto these masses of sub-par journalists leads to an inevitable conclusion – cheap, crappy content. And that crappy content is given a massive audience on the AOL portal.

On the other end you have Demand Media and companies like it. See Wired’s “Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model.” The company is paying bottom dollar to create “4,000 videos and articles” a day, based only on what’s hot on search engines. They push SEO juice to this content, which is made as quickly and cheaply as possible, and pray for traffic. It works like a charm, apparently.

They’re concerned that a mediaspace now occupied by either paid content creators (mainstream media) or upstart entrepreneurial individuals (folks like Arrington and MacManus – and far down the food chain, me) will get overwhelmed by homogenized, rapidly produced, unthoughtful content that will become invasive kudzu content and wipe out all the local species.

I’m not as concerned as they are (then again, I don’t have as much at stake…).

I’m not concerned because – first of all – the markets have a way of rewarding quality. There’s Wendy’s and McDonalds fast food, and there’s In and Out fast food. And there’s even Umami Burger fast food.

The ecology is big enough for all of them, and In and Out and Umami Burger survive and prosper even in the face of the immense marketing clout of Wendy’s and McDonalds.

And yes, Wendy’s and McDonalds dwarf In and Out which in turn dwarfs Umami Burger – but you don’t have to have a topline of billions to have a thriving business.

Secondly, the presumption is that the aggregate quality of media will decline in the face of this mass production. To which my only response is “Really?”

Look, one thing that blogging – and doing a bit of second hand and even second-rate journalism has done for me is to expose the genuine disaster that is modern journalism and media.

I’m not talking about politicization of left-right, or anything except the inability of the media that I read on a regular basis to do their basic job and to adequately curate and develop information that’s important to their communities.

Look, we just can’t get a lot worse.

The economic picture for people employed in media is going to get worse, however, as they begin to compete with the “Momerazzi” (moms with digital cameras) and amateur writers and proofreaders and others who are willing to do a small chunk of work for some extra cash.

In my mind, the person who ought to annoyed by all this is Neil Stephenson, who wrote about just such an information ecology in his book “Diamond Age” I can’t find my copy to scan a lengthy excerpt, but he suggest that acting and writing are at the time of his book subject to a network of real-time demand and bidding which allows anyone to bid for five minutes of work.

It paid well because of the high payer/payee ratio. Miranda provisionally accepted the bid. One of the other host roles hadn’t been filled yet, so while she waited, she bid and won a filler job. The computer morphed her into the face of an adorable young woman whose face and hair looked typical of what was current in London at the moment; she wore the uniform of a British Airways ticket agent. “Good morning, Mr. Oremland,” she gushed, reading the prompter.

I’m kind of looking forward to this…I think we will see dynamic near-realtime markets for information where topicality and quality are both important.