After some high-profile tech industry grumbling, Google has finally tackled the problem of content farms like Demand Media. Now if they would just remove Huffington Post from their index, we’d be all set.
I would have been even MORE pleased if the top
result for “content farm” were now “Demand Media”.
Let’s all take our hats off to Google for a moment for finally tackling the problem of their own crappy search results. If you have to do a lot of web research, you’ve probably noticed over the past few years that Google’s search results were getting spammier and spammier, thanks mostly to content farms like Demand Media, something we already belly-ached about a while back. Okay, now lets put our hats back on. Why did it take them so long to fix this? This was definitely a problem as long ago as 2006. It’s inconceivable that the Search Quality Team at Google hadn’t noticed it, and their recent fix seemed to come hot on the tails of the article by Michael Arrington on high-profile tech blog TechCrunch called Search Still Sucks , in which he said the thing many of us have thought for quite some time. So why did it take so long? The reasonable inference is that since Google’s largest revenue stream is ads, and content farms generated millions of page views with Google ad content, it would be a bit awkward to proactively blacklist them all. But that’s what Google has finally done; if you review lists like the ones at Search Engine Land and SYSTRIX, it’s immediately evident that the big losers in Google’s fix are mostly “Demand Media” sites. Which I find vaguely gratifying. If you’re not familiar with Demand Media, check out the PBS MediaShift series about companies like theirs. One of the most telling things about Demand Media is simply who the CEO is. While one has to acknowledge the drive and accomplishments of Richard Rosenblatt, about the only positive thing I can say about a guy who developed a company like MySpace is that he then managed to screw Rupert Murdoch by selling it to him for over half a billion dollars. In creating Demand Media, he’s shown that while he has incredibly savvy, drive, and management skills, he’s either entirely driven by the bottom line at the expense of any benefit to the human race, or utterly delusional. In this Business Insider piece about how Google’s algorithm change “hasn’t hurt their business at all” his EVP of Media and Ops says “We have built our business by focusing on creating the useful and original content that meets the specific needs of today’s consumer“. Yes Demand Media. I’m sure today’s consumer has been clamoring for more crap content to dig through to find any actual useful information. And while my greatest complaint about Google remains more about what I’d call their “imperial overreach” – in that their near-total domination as a portal to the web is the worst thing that’s happened to search in its relatively short history – we still have to give them an incredible amount of respect. The fact that you can dip into a global library of information and extract relevant information in seconds with relative ease borders on mystical. The unfortunate thing is that if we’re using a library as the analogy here, I think we now have the problem that everyone in the world is going to try to shove their book onto the shelves, and there are no librarians on duty, just an algorithm and an advertising department. A friend asked me the other day what I thought the solution to Google’s search problem was, and I said something I’ve said for several years when answering the question: “human edited content“. While the Open Directory Project (which was based on this concept) bit the dust ages ago from internal “link whoring” corruption, it doesn’t mean that the idea won’t work. Wikipedia is a great example of fairly reliable human-edited content. Why couldn’t this work with search? In any case, although I’m suspicious – as others are – of the continued presence of crap eHow.com content in results, I’m already relieved to see fewer “HubPages.com” and “Examiner” results. I just wonder if they’re going to fix that “bookmark site that links to a blog post that links to an article on HuffPo that steals an article wholesale from another site” problem.