I read a chilling story by Wired Magazine's Dan Roth last night about the future of online media, and I'm still trying to keep my breakfast down. It's not pretty.
Roth's story is about a company called Demand Media, which has introduced factory farming to the blogosphere. The company churns out 4,000 articles and videos every single day based on ideas spit out by a computer algorithm. The algorithm analyzes the keyword frequency from major search engines and the ad revenue that each of those keywords returns.
[ Also not bringing you this blog: the FTC. Get the lowdown from Cringely on InfoWorld. | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]
Its goal: to find the topics people search for most often that also provide the most pennies per click. The algorithm then spits out a series of keywords that are manipulated into a fortune cookie-style headline by a pair of humans (at 8 cents a pop). That headline gets tossed out to Demand's cadre of hungry freelance writers, who get paid $15 a post to generate a few hundred words of drivel. Demand runs the post through a plagiarism detector, pays $2.50 for it to be copyedited and (maybe) another buck for fact checking, and then voila -- instant content, delivered at a tidy profit.
This is similar to a tactic that has long been used by sleazy SEO companies. They commission bogus, link-rich articles about a product or Web site, then post them online hoping to fool Google into thinking the particular product or site is more popular than it actually is. The problem here is that Demand Media is being used with increasing frequency by legitimate sites, like eHow, LiveStrong, and Cracked.
Want to crank out a video on that topic? No problem. You can make a cool $20 for that. Doesn't have to be in focus or anything. According to Roth, YouTube loves Demand Media because -- unlike 90 percent of the stuff people post -- it produces videos that are easy to sell ads against.
Here's an obnoxious YouTube video describing their services, which appropriately enough comes with an ad for cheap car insurance attached to it.
And now the really chilling bit. Per Roth: