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The trials of the "content slave"

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJune 20, 2011 1:27 PM


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Some of you may have read Oliver Miller's AOL Hell: An AOL Content Slave Speaks Out. If you haven't read it, please do! This section is important:

“LADY GAGA PANTLESS IN PARIS” is the example given in “The AOL Way” internal documents. That’s the best possible title. A buzz-worthy topic, a sexy result. It mattered little if Lady Gaga was actually pantless in Paris; it only had to relate somehow to the article as a whole. The entire title could be a come-on, a tease. It might well turn out that Lady Gaga was neither pantless, nor in Paris at the time. The important part was that the reader would click on those words to read the rest, thereby producing ad revenue for the websites. Words didn’t matter; stealing other people’s work also didn’t matter. I still have a saved IM conversation with my boss, written after 10 months of employment, when I was reaching the breaking point: “Do you guys even CARE what I write? Does it make any difference if it’s good or bad?” I said.“Not really,” was the reply.

A lot of Miller's piece focuses on the fact that he was overworked and underpaid. That's not optimal, but lots of people are overworked and underpaid. If AOL content slaves were producing valuable content then someone would benefit: the public. One person's cheap skilled labor is another person's cheap quality product. But there's no redeeming aspect to this. The sweat and anxiety of the content slave is in the service engine optimization. That's it. Their goal is to swamp your pop-culture Google News queries. I don't think there's anything necessarily bad about throwing content at "trend topics," but most of it is just crap. This is the sort of thing which will drive people to get their information from twitter and Facebook. At least there it is harder to "game" the system because there are regular people doing the filtering for you. Content farms and their ilk remind me of the salt which builds up in the most fertile irrigated fields. Pretty soon Google will become barren if they don't start aggressively pruning these offal generators.

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