The Now/ledge

A Guide to the 'Now' Revolution in News / by Alan Soon

Google puts content farms in its sights (good luck to Demand Media’s IPO)

Demand Media’s expected IPO next week has run into a not so-unexpected problem — Google.

The Internet search engine is working on weeding out what it calls webspam — the junk that appears in search results, often courtesy of highly operational content farms like Demand Media.

Google is apparently concerned about a perception that the quality of its search results is worsening. The company’s problem with spam is also getting exploited by a small rival, Blekko, which promises better returns through user curation.

Google acknowledges that websites are trying to cheat their way up to higher position and that “people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.”

This spells trouble for Demand Media in its move toward an IPO. But none of this should be too surprising for investors. The company, in its preliminary prospectus, warned:

“Google may from time to time change its existing, or establish new, methodologies and metrics for valuing the quality of Internet traffic and delivering cost-per-click advertisements. Any changes in these methodologies, metrics and advertising technology platforms could decrease the amount of revenue that we generate from online advertisements.”

Content farms like AOL’s Seed and Yahoo’s Associated Content need to take a closer look at the business. It’s risky and it’s quickly evolving. Keep an eye on Quora. Why should anyone go to eHow when they can get better curated answers to their questions by a community that has a healthy dose of credibility?

Filed under: SEO,

What journalism needs in 2011

The smartest minds in the business have already put out their best predictions for 2011. So I’ll do mine differently; here’s my list of what I think journalism needs in order to thrive in 2011.

1. Tablet-only publications and redefining our metrics

Tablet devices offer the best opportunity yet for us to redefine online journalism/publishing. It’s like hitting the reset button. For one, this is our best chance yet to do away with the obsolete metric of counting page views, which in my opinion represents the worst contamination of online journalism. Story-telling is undermined by numerous “link bait,” all for the purpose of collecting more clicks. More than ever, engagement matters. It’s time we measured that in minutes and not clicks. Tablets, and their more natural way of interaction, offer the best chance to get that right.

My other hope is that tablets, with increasing competition in the apps ecosystem, will favor niche and curated stories with differentiation. The current Web ecosystem is plagued by weeds — a result of the rise of content farms. It’s time to return to considered curation. Try this analogy: instant coffee didn’t kill the barista profession; in fact, it’s taught many people about the beauty of a fabulous brew. I hope content is headed in the same direction.

2. Social news

Storify is the best example of the potential of social news. Think of it as a “news of news” platform. The Washington Post used Storify recently during the U.S. mid-term election to monitor allegations of fraud and irregularities.

I’d love to see other rivals to Storify emerge. I’d bet that the competition will come from none other than the social media networks themselves. Social updates are already the gold mine of the content age — and there’s no reason why a company like Facebook would leave this lying on the table. How long will it be before Facebook enters the social news business?

3. Data mining as a news profession

Yahoo’s country editor in Vietnam Nguyen Tran Ha often reminds me that “information only exists when it is read.” In the age of “leakification” provided by WikiLeaks and its copycats, data exists — but it needs to be interpreted and mined. Like library science, data mining is a profession in its own right and such professionals are needed to pull in and interpret the numbers.

ProPublica demonstrated with great success this year what some have called “computational journalism” — the marriage of algorithms, computing and investigation. Here’s an example of data they put together detailing which banks received the largest bailouts from the Fed.

Data is after all, the raw material for investigative journalism. It’s time to see this reflected in a profession created around it. Would someone like to attempt a job description for such a role?

Filed under: Facebook, General, Jobs, News, , , , , , ,

Finally, as expected — Demand Media files for IPO

Demand Media has, as expected, filed for an IPO. The company is looking at a maximum offering price of $125 million but didn’t say how much would be up for sale. There was no mention of a date either in its SEC filing.

The filing itself reveals interesting insights into the company, especially the risks it perceives. In particular, it warns potential investors about “certain material agreements with Google for a significant portion of our revenue. A termination of these agreements, or a failure to renew them on favorable terms, would adversely affect our business.”

Filed under: General,

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