The Future of Content Web Sites: Content Factories and Content Communities

I was recently reading a Wired article that profiled a company called Demand Media.

The company is one of many companies that are seeking to become a “content factory”.  Their goal is to automate the production of web content that is carefully targeted to capture the most high value traffic from the search engines.  Both answers.com and aol.com, for example, are going after similar models.

Demand Media makes two boasts:  4,000 pieces of content a day and algorithm for identifying topics for authors to write about.  Peter Kafka has recently noted that Demand Media is probably more valuable than the New York Times.

How much content does it take to be considered a thriving content factory?  According to a recent profile from ReadWriteWeb, here are some numbers from the most popular content sites:

wikipedia.org: 56,000,000

answers.com: 37,700,000

nytimes.com: 13,200,000

washingtonpost.com: 12,500,000

ehow.com (owned by Demand Media): 4,850,000

huffingtonpost.com: 4,740,000

I am in no way trying to imply the sites such the NY Times, Washington Post, or Wikipedia are comparable to the content factories.  I bring it up to show how rapidly the content factories are growing.  Michael Arrington has written an interesting post about how the content factories may indicate the decline of “hand-crafted content”

I write all this to compare the content factory approach with the approach that we have embraced at HubPages: what I would term the ‘content community’ approach.

Rather than a factory environment where content is owned by the host site, we provide a crowdsourced environment where the copyright stays with the author.  The author is not limited to a one-time fee for writing content but is entitled to monthly payments based on the ad revenue generated by the pages written (60% of ad revenue generated by an article goes to the author).

Can the community model compete with the factory model in terms of output?  In December 2009, hubbers produced 40,892 hubs.  That’s 1,319 hubs a day on average.  That’s after we unpublished hubs that violated our terms of use.  That number has been on the rise in recent months.  In January 2009, just for comparison, hubbers produced 17,544 hubs (or, 565 hubs a day on average).

Are HubPages hubs higher quality than the content factory articles?  It’s definitely our goal to keep raising the quality standards at HubPages.  Hubscore has gone a long way in promoting quality.  I think that we can do more.

I bring all this up because even if the content factories are starting to get lots of attention, I think that the future lies with content communities.  I believe that ultimately authors will want to retain the copyright for their best stuff.  It is always more fun and rewarding to be part of a community rather than a cog on a wheel that turns according to a master algorithm.

To be fair, eHow, which is owned by Demand Media, operates as a content community so it is quite possible that in the long run, Demand Media will move more in this direction.

Additionally, its questionable whether the content factories will be able to keep up their current search traffic levels.  John Battelle believes that Google will be working hard to put a stop on their influence.  John believes that “2010 is going to be a very interesting year.”

19 thoughts on “The Future of Content Web Sites: Content Factories and Content Communities

  1. Content factories are good, as long as the websites are moderated to maintain the high standard. What I cannot stand is those autoblogs who use syndicated content for the purpose of making money

  2. I am working hard myself to “capture the most high value traffic from the search engines.” Maybe 1,000 hubs this year just isn’t enough. Thank you for adding to my angst and woes.!

    Google might slap them. But don’t count on it if they create a nice adsense revenue stream.

  3. Nice article. Just the words content factory make my skin crawl. I think if websites decide to create content automatically via non human means, the value of the internet will be lost to a great extent. Hopefully people will still prefer content written by people!

  4. As a long-time freelance writer, one of the reasons I decided to start writing for a site like HubPages is that the do allow me to retain copyright of my work.

    Also, the fact that they (i) “frown” on previoulsy submitted content (of which I have a few thousand pieces I could capitalize on); and (ii) urge you to produce longer pieces (eg, 700-800 words, instead of the standard web norm of 250-400 words) means that the content tends to be of higher quality.

    While in the short run “content mills” may gain favor with search engines, in the long run, the “content communities win out.” Why? Because when real people search the net they want real, informative info – not regurgitated, obviously written for AdSense revenue content.

    Hence, writers who take the time to produce this content — and retain the copyright to their work — will be the real winners.

    Just like anything else, while those taking the easy route will seeming win the race, as Aeso’s fable so brilliantly bears out, the turtle (good info) wins the race over the hare (content mills who provide little value) every time.

  5. Great article. I agree with you, 2010 is going to be an interesting year for content writers. There are so many tentacles spreading out from different directions for publishers it’s amazing, I wonder if the dust will ever settle? Or will there just be an ever-growing mass of diversity?!

  6. Articles from the content factories has improved over the last year or so but it can still be pretty depressing if you open an about.com piece by mistake. Way too many of them are information free zones. A lot of the ehows are as bad and many are just a string of videos from youtube.

    You can’t fault their SEO though. They are always up there on Google.

  7. I think we are starting to see more and more the decline of quality, professional content on the internet. With these content factories and the pletora of sites allowing people to write very little content, with only the purpose of making money with google and affiliates, I have noticed it is more difficult to find professional knowledge and information on searches. I believe writers here at HP need to be careful to be writing original content and citing any research and quotes from notables in their articles. I appreciate being able to write here.

  8. I would also have to add that least with HP content is one of kind and won’t be regurgitated identically on million of other sites. Great information to be aware of, thanks HP team and Mr. Larry, 🙂

  9. I write for Demand Media and they’re a very generous outlet for web writers. It’s usually easy to find interesting things to write about, and the pay is decent. They also offer a lot of incentives including a new grant that their writers can apply for as well as health insurance.

    However, I keep my HubPages up and running as my creative outlet. I love that I can write about whatever I want and not have to worry about the article being rejected. I also have a wider scope of information that I can give which doesn’t have to follow their guidelines. I like to think that on HubPages I can sometimes cater articles toward people that may fall out of the mainstream and need information on more alternative information.

    I do wonder what will happen to all of this content, say, in 10 years. With so many changes to the internet and how it’s being utilized, what will happen to our content a decade or two away? In computer years, that’s more like a few centuries.

  10. I was begining to have concern about the activities of some online content sites like the one you described in this article. I always ask myself what the faith of humble individuals will be doing to have an online presence in the nearest future. Thanks for this informative article, more of this

  11. Like Laura S., I write for Demand Media. Because I write through their site rather than through eHow (there’s more than just eHow, too), I have the choice of being paid a set fee (it’s decent!) or being paid through ad revenue. However, the formatting is very rigid and while I get the by-line, I don’t have rights to my work.

    I love HubPages because I am free to write for myself and I do retain the copyrights. I also enjoy the social interaction. I have only recently started to take advantage of all HubPages has to offer, so am hoping I’ll see some monetary gain soon!

    Here’s to HubPages!

  12. One thing a content factory can’t do that a community can is check for accuracy. Content factories are doomed to irrelevance because when people are looking for information on the internet, they want *accurate* information.

    Inaccuracy has already become a problem in communities because of annoyed readers. Google is already combatting it, which has reduced the once automatic relevancy that some sites used to get.

    With the advent of Sidewiki and other user/reader powered means of rating and reviewing sites, not to mention StumbleUpon’s ability to actually downrate sites, content factories are not only doomed but already outdated.

    So I don’t think communities should panic just yet. Just when botters and spammers figure out a way to beat the system, it adapts to serve the users better.

  13. thanks for sharing your research on content factories, it is interesting to see how search information changes each year and it requires more sites that produce content to stay up to date on the latest features that drive content communities.

  14. Good post. I think every company needs to build a content factory and that’s really the future of what marketing will be. Here’s a blog post that talks about it in more depth.

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