In the context of the World Wide Web, a content farm (or content mill) is a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views as first exposed in the context of social spam.
Articles in content farms have been found to contain identical passages across several media sources, leading to questions about the sites placing search engine optimization goals over factual relevance. Proponents of the content farms claim that from a business perspective, traditional journalism is inefficient. Content farms often commission their writers' work based on analysis of search engine queries that proponents represent as "true market demand", a feature that traditional journalism lacks.
Some sites labeled as content farms may contain a large number of articles and have been valued in the millions of dollars. In 2009, Demand Media (including eHow) was projected to be publishing 1 million items a month, then equivalent to four English-language Wikipedias a year. Another site, Associated Content, was purchased in May 2010 by Yahoo! for $90 million.
Pay scales for content are low compared to traditional salaries received by writers. One company compensated writers at a rate of $3.50 per article. Such rates are substantially lower than a typical writer might receive working for mainstream online publications; however, some content farm contributors produce many articles per day and may earn enough for a living income. It has been reported that content writers are often educated women with children seeking supplemental income while working at home.
Critics allege that content farms provide relatively low quality content, and that they maximize profit by producing "just good enough" material rather than high-quality articles. Articles are usually composed by human writers rather than automated processes, but they may not be written by a specialist in the subjects reported. Some authors working for sites identified as content farms have admitted knowing little about the fields on which they report. Search engines see content farms as a problem, as they tend to bring the user to less relevant and lower quality results of the search. The reduced quality and rapid creation of articles on such sites has drawn comparisons to the fast food industry and to pollution:
|“||Information consumers end up with less relevant or valuable resources. Producers of relevant resources receive less cash as a reward (lower clickthrough rate) while producers of junk receive more cash. One way to describe this is pollution. Virtual junk pollutes the Web environment by adding noise. Everybody but the polluters pays a price for Web pollution: search engines work less well, users waste precious time and attention on junk sites, and honest publishers lose income. The polluter spoils the Web environment for everybody else.||”|
In one of Google's promotional videos for search published in the summer of 2010, the majority of the links available were reported to be produced at content farms. In late February, 2011, Google announced it was adjusting search algorithms significantly to "provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on." This was reported to be a reaction to content farms and an attempt to reduce their effectiveness in manipulating search result rankings.
Because of their recent appearance on the Web, content farms have not yet received a lot of explicit attention from the research community. The model of hiring inexpensive freelancers to produce content was first discussed as an alternative strategy to generating fake content automatically, together with an example of the infrastructure necessary to make it profitable through online ads, and techniques to detect social spam that promotes such content.
While not explicitly motivated by content farms, there has been recent interest in the automatic categorisation of web sites according to the quality of their content. A detailed study on the application of these methods to the identification of content farm pages is yet to be done.
- Search engine optimization
- Google Panda, a change to Google's search algorithm that is intended to filter out low-quality sites
- Link farm
- Click farm
- Dorian Benkoil (July 26, 2010). "Don't Blame the Content Farms". PBS. Retrieved 2010-07-26.
- Markines, Benjamin; Cattuto, Ciro; Menczer, Filippo (2009), "Social Spam Detection", Proceedings of the 5th International Workshop on Adversarial Information Retrieval on the Web (AIRWeb '09), ACM, pp. 41–48, doi:10.1145/1531914.1531924, ISBN 978-1-60558-438-6
- Loechner, Tyler. "News and Conferences for Media, Advertising and Marketing Professionals". MediaPost. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
- Roth, Daniel (November 2009). "The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model". Wired. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
- Yahoo Harvests "Content Farm" Associated Content for $90 Million, Report
- What It's Like To Write For Demand Media: Low Pay But Lots of Freedom - Page 2
- Patricio Robles (9 April 2010). "USA Today turns to the content farm as the ship sinks". econsultancy.com. Retrieved 2010-07-26.
- John Reinan (July 19, 2010). "I'm still waiting to make a bushel from my content farm work". minnpost.com. Retrieved 2010-07-26.
- Writers Explain What It's Like Toiling on the Content Farm
- How Google Can Combat Content Farms http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/how_google_can_combat_content_farms.php
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- Article on Techcrunch
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