Lesson from AOL-Huffington Post buyout: The mediocre shall inherit the Web

AOL's purchase of the Huffington Post is a symptom of a much bigger problem -- how lousy content dominates the Web

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Mashable isn't any better. In fact, I can't think of a blog from the 2005 to 2006 era that got big and yet maintained the quality that made it worth reading back then.

But try telling that to Google. Because these blogs developed a devoted audience early, they became Google gold. Looking for breaking news? Unless it's from an established source like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, you probably won't find the site where that story originally appeared. But you will find it in its reconstituted, just-add-water-and-stir form on one of these news aggregator sites -- because they're the ones with the Google juice. They're the ones that ride the top of Google News like Kelly Slater on the Banzai Pipeline. The bigger they become, the more juice they acquire.

Of course, advertising on the Web is still dirt cheap, relatively speaking. Nobody's dining at Delmonico's on what a banner ad brings in. The only way to make this model work was to create editorial sweatshops (or, like L'Arianna, get people to write simply for the "prestige" of appearing on HuffPo). Thus, we saw the emergence of word factories like Examiner.com, Demand Media, Associated Content, etc, which churn out the worst dreck humanly imaginable for pennies a story. They, too, soak up a lot of Google juice just from sheer volume and SEO trickery.

I'm not the only person in this camp. Jason Calacanis, founder of Mahalo and Weblogs Inc. (bought by AOL back in 2005), says the same thing -- and he should know because at one time he was one of those who was doing it. His money quote: "We are polluting the Internet."

My prediction: By the end of this year, all of the big traffic blogs will be owned by corporate conglomerates. Like Coke and Pepsi, they won't be competing on who tastes better or is more nutritious, they'll be competing on who's better at marketing -– or, in this case, tweaking Google.

Google blogger Matt Cutts, who's become the unofficial voice of the company now that creepy Uncle Eric has departed, wrote last month about trying to muscle out sites "with shallow or low-quality content" from Google search results. Good luck with that, Matt. When every site on the Web is a content farm, what will be left to sort out?

Will we be able to stop Internet pollution? And if not, will the last real Web bloggers please turn in their pajamas? Post your thoughts on this below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Lesson from AOL-Huffington Post buyout: The mediocre shall inherit the Web," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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