A growing number of firms are aggressively pursuing the market for information by providing material that answers online searches and employing strategies so their material appears high in search results.
These enterprises are providing high quantity, low quality material on topics designed to produce many search hits and driven by the desire to make money from advertising received as high traffic sites. Some are proving quite successful.
Demand Media, for example, uses about 13,000 freelance writers to produce about 4000 articles a day for which it gains about 95 million unique visitors with more than 620 million page views monthly. Its eHow.com site alone gets about 50 million users. Ask.com, Yahoo and AOL are also engaging in the market.
When you make a search and are taken to answer.com, dictionary.com, wikianswers.com or hundreds of other sites providing such information to the public, you encounter this mass produced content. The business strategy is working and many of the sites are among the top 25 sites in the U.S.
These producers and a whole range of similar organizations are producing material in content farms that rely on freelancers who are paid as little as $1 an article or get no payment except for number of page views for their specific work. It is a throwback to the penny-a-word days of journalism in the 19th century. The firms are increasingly seeking video producers, photographers, and graphic artists to provide similar material at similar levels of compensation.
Even established news organizations and other enterprises are starting to use the syndicated material produced by such content farms. Organizations such as Hearst publications and National Football League are relying on them for some content that appears on their sites, for example.
The implications of these developments on the quality of Internet information and the prospects for professional writers are clear and hardly encouraging.