Lately there has been a lot of concern about ‘content farms’; web sites that post small blurbs of information about a news story. At issue is how this style of journalism is undermining our traditional way of reading news. Writers are screaming about how the Web is in deep trouble because of these sites, trying to convince us that the Web as we know it will just become dumbed-down mess of information. I say it’s ridiculous hysteria.
What if you had to read a long article in order to learn the score of the Cubs game last night? Thankfully, we have scoreboards published on MLB.com. What if you need to know the score and who pitched? We have box scores for that. Has anybody protested box scores? Sometimes I may feel like reading 1200 words about the game though. So if I want to go beyond the box score, I can choose to read a Chicago Tribune article about Carlos Zambrano’s meltdown.
With this argument comes concern about search engines and what gets indexed. People say “Google searches one day will be filled with nothing but these junk articles.” This argument assumes people will just stop reading long articles. It also assumes that Google has no control over what they index.
Let’s say Google started serving nothing but articles from the feared content farms. What do you think would happen to Google? If I’m looking for that 1200 word Cubs article and can’t find it on Google, I will stop using Google. So will others. The people who work for Google know this. That’s why the search index changes regularly to reflect what people want instead of serving junk.
All of this fear only comes about because traditional journalists have failed to adjust to the new way we get our information. They are all pissed off. They get angry when somebody ‘steals’ a part of their article and pays them with a link. Writers at sites like Mashable and Engadget high-five one another for the same reason. Traditional journalists want us all to subscribe to the same boring newspapers we have for over 100 years so that we can get only their view of the news. Well it’s a new world. A world where the many can spread information, not just the few who who could afford a useless journalism class. Deal with it!
What’s great about the Web is that I can choose what I read. Sites do not perform well if people do not read them. So what’s the worry when it comes to content farms? A content farm may not feature much, but if it gives me the quick information I need, it’s valuable to me and deserves whatever success may come. It’s never going to be the only thing I read though. The writers who put their heart into a long, masterpiece of an article will be rewarded with my eyes as well.
The population on the Web controls what’s popular. If there comes a day where everybody wants to read small 100 word articles, so be it. I don’t believe that will ever happen. On the Web, there is room for all kinds of content. Short or long. Filled with deep info or filled with fluff. There’s even room for porn. It will always be about choice.