Today we have a guest post from Chas Edwards, Chief Revenue Officer at Pixazza, who’s been thinking quite a lot about various content-related business models lately, and wrote the following in response to the recent news of Google’s algorithm change
Recently, Google announced changes to the PageRank algorithm that will affect nearly 12% of search results. According to their post at Google’s blog, Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal say the changes are “designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites — sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”
Presumably this will have an enormous effect on content farms such as Demand Media and Yahoo’s Associated Content. So what’s a content farmer to do?
A few days ago I wrote a post expressing my hope that content farms might grow up into something useful and generally less sucky. Maybe I’ve been reading too many happy-ending fairytales to my daughters. But when I pull back from the actual content from Demand or Associated that makes its way to my search results (which is usually quite bad), I see a platform — and platforms, theoretically, are things on which you can build something lame or something good. If the content farmers help individuals with knowledge find questions (search queries) that need answers (topics too niche for large or mid-sized publishers to cover), it seems plausible that some individuals might create useful content.
My argument, though, misses at least two important points, which Glenn Fleishman and Jeff Jarvis helped me think through.
“Why do people write on Huffington Post? Because they can. Because they give a shit. Because they like the attention and conversation. Because they couldn’t before. Why do they sing their songs on YouTube? Same reasons.”
Jarvis’s argument is: When we’re doing work, we expect to get paid. When we’re doing something for the love of it, we’re motivated by passion and the opportunity to be heard. When we’re doing it for love, in other words, we often create value for free. Quality content is traded for distribution to an audience and for a chance be an authority.
In a Twitter exchange with Glenn Fleishman, he said “The more you spend, the better content you get, up to a point.” His site, Wi-Fi Net News, was one of the first 10 sites that teamed up with Federated Media back in 2005. So my question back to him was: “But what about WFNN in the early days when the money wasn’t great but the content was?”
Aha. It’s about ownership. Glenn is specifically referring to IP ownership (his words, his URL, his business), but there’s a different kind of ownership too — one that Jarvis is getting at. I’m willing to contribute (to the best of my abilities) good content, free of charge, to Twitter, Quora or the Huffington Post even though I don’t own the IP or the business. I’m willing to do that because I do get to own the authority. Those platforms publish my by-line, picture and bio, so if someone out there thinks I’m smart or funny, I own that goodness. I’m not making money, but I get credit. I work hard to create value because, if I’m successful, that content distributed on those platforms polishes my brand and my reputation.
Even if Demand Media keeps most of the money they’re making from their websites, they might dodge the Google bullet if they can improve content quality by giving their contributors a sense of ownership over what they create. And then they marry the handsome prince!