Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Your Guide to Next Generation 'Content Farms'

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From time to time, we provide an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. We've previously covered Twitter, local watchdog news sites, and Net neutrality, among other topics. This week MediaShift editorial intern Davis Shaver looks at the "content farm" phenomenon.

As traditional news outlets continue to lay off journalists, a new generation of companies is betting big on online content. Their approaches differ significantly, but are all built on the common premise that for online content to be profitable, it has to be produced at a truly massive scale. The proliferation of these so-called "content farms" -- a name the companies predictably dislike -- has raised the ire of journalists and pundits alike.

"If you want to know how our profession ends, look at Demand Media," wrote Jason Fry, a former Wall Street Journal columnist who edits Reinventing the Newsroom.

Of course Demand Media is far from being the first online content company built on search-driven data. Both and Weblogs Inc. built content based on popular search terms, and employed large teams of content producers and bloggers to create stories to help answer common questions.

It's easy to see why Demand Media's strategy has been replicated by start-ups and start-arounds alike. When Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt discovered that algorithmically-generated assignments could generate 4.9 times the revenue of traditional editor-generated ideas, the sheer profitability of this new content paradigm guaranteed that companies like Demand Media would be viewed as outliers in the context of a news industry facing significant fiscal troubles.

This is the first article in what will be a full week of PBS MediaShift special coverage dedicated to next generation content companies. We're calling this series "Beyond Content Farms" and each day will see us examine different aspects of these companies and what they mean for the web and the media world. Below is an overview of the major companies that are taking a "content farm" strategy of pushing out massive amounts of content, a primer that sets out some of the key players, what they do, and what their goals are.

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