Google has recently declared war of sorts on content farms. It's not clear at all to me whether their definition of content farms is the same as yours or mine, or even whether Google considers properties like Demand Media to be farms.
But regular folks do use the term "content farm" for the websites above. They complain that:
- They are not "authority" websites.
- They are spam.
- They have copied, spun or scraped content.
- They produce volumes of content just to make money.
- They don't offer value to the user.
- Do these websites exist to make money? Yes. So do newspapers. So do massage therapists. So do call centers. So do doctors. So do the big banks. So do food producers. So does any profit based business. They all produce a product or a service, sometimes out of love for that product or service, sometimes not, but at least out of the desire to make money. Content farms are doing nothing that the businesses they are competing against are not also doing. Is it moral? That's for you to decide. But the question at hand is, is their product or service useful? I'd say that we can spare the big banks, but not so much the content farms. We need those, for reasons I'll explain soon.
- Are content farms spam, existing only to be "monetized" by Google AdSense? I don't know, and furthermore, only Google does, and they haven't been saying much about it.
- Do content farms have copied, spun, or scraped content? From my perspective, I see far more content copied, spun and scraped from content farms than by them. But I'll admit this is anecdotal evidence and that yes, some content creators do copy or spin content on some of these content farms, despite each sites' attempts at quality controls. (Incidentally, the websites on which I've published do not want recycled or rewritten content, which is considered plagiarism). However, the problem of intellectual property violation is by no means limited to content farms. Rather, content farms are a front-stage but relatively small part of a much bigger show. The huge problem assaulting the web is the inevitable challenge posed by digital technology to existing intellectual property laws designed in an infrastructure of print and controlled media. What does that mumbo-jumbo mean? Basically, that it was hard to copy things before, and now it's easy, and the old intellectual property laws were designed to protect property that was already well-protected by physical constraints. For example, in the world of magazines, people used to read only the few magazines sold in the physical bookstores or by subscription or in the library, and you had to physically copy them, transport them, covertly resell them, etc. Now to copy and publish material, all you have to do is search for one of the billions of bits of published material freely available, copy, paste, post, and earn...it takes less than twenty minutes and chances are you won't even get caught. The laws and the technology have to catch up with what people can now do in their new environment without stifling necessary free expansion. This is hard, and not a problem caused by content farms, but by the Internet itself.
- I'll deal with #1 and #5 together, since they're related. Does the content in question have authority? Value? Yes, a goodly portion of it does. Content farms are not always sourced by authorities in the traditional sense, but that does not mean the content does not offer value for the users as good as, and even better than (since many are more concisely and clearly written), that of so-called authority sites (so-called because our criteria for calling a website an authority are controversial). They're valuable because these "farms" utilize the skills of the unproven but talented (read: youth), the authority of the freelance little guy rather than that of the hired drudge (what's the difference, again?), the garage expert rather than the certified and accredited expert. But wait, now...they utilize the certified and accredited experts, too, because the opportunities for jobs in the traditional job market are fading. Sure, those experts could have their own websites, but content farms make publishing easy for the non-techie. In fact, that's what the "content farms" that aren't editorially controlled are, like HubPages: they're massively popular self-publishing platforms. Even Suite101, though editorially controlled, doesn't dictate titles or topics. Those that use established professional editors like About.com and Demand Media actually seek experts to write for them, and get them, too, because the experts are out of traditional work. So yes, the expertise IS there on these websites; and where it's not, we have homegrown expertise, creativity, and talent coming from out of the woodwork, just as it did at another time of a critical economic shift - the Golden Age in the early 20th century.