Google vs. Nonsense

In my day job, I’m not a scientist – I’m a writer. So it pleases me immensely to see this New York Times piece on the innovative ways Google is waging war on “content farms” and other purveyors of word salad:

Last year, The Economist admiringly described Associated Content and Demand Media as cleverly cynical operations that “aim to produce content at a price so low that even meager advertising revenue can support it.”

As recent accounts of life in these words-are-money mills make clear, some content-farm writers have deadlines as frequently as every 25 minutes. Others are expected to turn around reported pieces, containing interviews with several experts, in an hour. Some compose, edit, format and publish 10 articles in a single shift. Many with decades of experience in journalism work 70-hour weeks for salaries of $40,000 with no vacation time. The content farms have taken journalism hackwork to a whole new level.

You can’t mess with Google forever. In February, the corporation concocted what it concocts best: an algorithm. The algorithm, called Panda, affects some 12 percent of searches, and it has — slowly and imperfectly — been improving things. Just a short time ago, the Web seemed ungovernable; bad content was driving out good. But Google asserted itself, and credit is due: Panda represents good cyber-governance. It has allowed Google to send untrustworthy, repetitive and unsatisfying content to the back of the class. No more A’s for cheaters.

At the same time, the goal, according to Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts, who worked on Panda, is to “provide better rankings for high-quality sites — sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”