What is old is new again

Content Farms: what they are, how they operate and who they impact provided new insights into the structure and operation of the World Wide Web.

To learn that a small group of entrepreneurs, dedicated to the bottom line, are providing significant content for some of the most popular website was disheartening.  The numbers are amazing.  According to published reports, Demand Media is adding 4,000 videos and print pieces every day. The article indicates that Demand Media is the most aggressive of the companies, using scientific algorithms to maximize content and therefore, profit.

How many web users understand that when they go to their web browser and seek out information on everything from diets to dogs that the content provided is based on a computer program designed to maximize the advertisements to which they are exposed? I can imagine that only those most educated in online communications are aware of these practices.

Since the advent of mass media, communicators and their corporations have sought to boost circulation, listeners and viewers. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were known for their rivalry for readers, printing sensational stories that they thought would sell more papers. The practice, called yellow journalism, eventually gave way to ethical standards and responsible reporting. As everyone knows, the Pulitzer Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to journalism.

In television, during rating periods commonly called sweeps weeks, broadcast outlets around the county offer series of stories with the goal of increasing viewers. The more viewers, the more the stations can charge for advertising. Hence, stories designed to capture viewer’s attention are broadcast carrying outlandish headlines such as “Felons in Daycare” or the “Menopause Drug.”

Now there is a new medium, the internet, delivering content coupled with demands to generate revenue from the endeavor. The questionable practices outlined in this week’s reading assignment run the gamut from plagiarism to hiring of “content farm hands” paid only $15 a story.

So while internet entrepreneurs are making millions through search engine optimization and page views, the unsuspecting web browsing public is probably unaware of how the information they seek may be erroneous and manipulated to maximize someone’s bottom line.  Unfortunately, stories included for reading in this week’s assignment such as Business Insider apparently were not picked up by main stream media where they would have enlightened those of us who are mere users of the medium.

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