January 23, 2011
Google has announced that it is fixing flaws in its algorithm that allows search results to be spammed, while also planning to weaken the search-ability of websites referred to as "content farms." Matt Cutts, head of Google's anti-spam team, writes:
As "pure webspam" has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to "content farms," which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. (my emphasis)
The only clear reference from Google about problems occurring from "content farms" in regards to spamming search results is from China: "Last year Google faced a rash of webspam on Chinese domains in our index. Some spammers were purchasing large amounts of cheap .cn domains and stuffing them with misspellings and porn phrases." They claim this scheme led to "irrelevant" search results.
Yet, their goal seems to be to weaken what has been referred to as "news aggregating" websites as "one change that primarily affects sites that copy others' content and sites with low levels of original content." This clearly describes many sites that present alternative news. However, plenty of alternative news sites and blogs have original material which they freely share, in part or in full, purely to support one another in disseminating the truth. This is of key importance to spread information in the absence of government or foundation funding, as enjoyed by much of the mainstream media. It is also a counter to censorship, so that a free market of ideas can flourish where people can investigate facts for themselves, rather than have opinions dictated from a limited number of sources.
According to a recent cheerleading article by TechCrunch, content farms indeed include websites that post any duplicate content word-for-word, "Now, finally, it sounds like they're going to do more to take on sites that just repurpose content from other sites (hopefully including the countless sites that repost TechCrunch articles verbatim)."
What's odd is that everyone knows that original content already carries far more weight with Google algorithms than re-posted content. Additionally, backlinks from well-ranked relevant sites is also a huge factor in building a strong Google page rank, besides driving traffic to the source. Therefore, it would stand to reason that websites like TechCrunch should be overjoyed when other relevant sites post their content, as long as it is sourced with a hyperlink. Alexa ranks TechCrunch at 305 on the entire Internet, no doubt due to their 36,374 links that Alexa recognizes. Without allowing the sharing of their original content, this level of achievement would be impossible under the current Google algorithm.
For those who understand this concept, if they punish sites that re-post content such as news aggregators that link back to them, the source will surely lose traffic and overall ranking despite being heavy in original content. Which begs the question, what people have been asking for "stronger action against content farms?" Because gauging the rise in popularity of alternative media (i.e. news aggregators), it seems that Internet users themselves aren't the ones complaining.
It is obviously the entrenched dinosaur media that despises having to play on a level field, especially as it pertains to truthful reporting and analysis. Former executive editor of the Washington Post, Leonard Downie Jr., addressed "old media vs. new media" in a September lecture where he excoriated so-called content farms as "parasites living off journalism produced by others." He even claims re-posting of material, even if sourced, is "stealing" as reported by Politico:
'The aggregators fill their websites with news, opinion, features, photographs and video that they continuously collect - some would say steal - from other national and local news sites, along with mostly unpaid postings by bloggers who settle for exposure in lieu of money,' Downie said.
'Though they purport to be a new form of journalism, these aggregators are primarily parasites living off journalism produced by others. They attract audiences by aggregating journalism about special interests and opinions reflecting a predictable point of view on the left or right of the political spectrum, along with titillating gossip and sex. Revealing photos of and stories about entertainment and celebrities account for much of the highly touted web traffic to the Huffington Post site, for example.'
Downie rightly states that these sites attract an audience seeking a certain point of view, but ignores the fact that mainstream outlets do the same. Some would argue that the real strength behind news aggregators is the ability to expose the establishment's gross injustices and other inconvenient truths without all the "titillating" distractions. As the masses become more aware of establishment lies, they are flocking to alternative sites who cut through the BS and present a clear path to the truth.
Google's algorithm changes seem to be yet another tool being used to direct the flow of information away from the alternative media to selected mainstream news sources. It compounds actions already taken by Google in their involvement in upending net neutrality in favor of mega-media machines; the attempt by Congress to crack down on copyright infringement by blacklisting domain names; and copyright extortionist lawyers suing over wording in links.
It's obvious that the establishment will find a way to punish truth sites, either through technical penalization for re-posting material, reducing access speed, blogging taxes, lawsuits for copyright infringement, or by arbitrarily blacklisting the domain altogether.
At it's core, this new Google algorithm seems to punish information sharing in favor of protectionist conglomerates with large writing staffs. We in the alternative media would do well to recognize that these actions being taken by the elite of the media world are just another sign of their weakened state. Now is the time for the alternative media to seek more writers and more cooperation.