Diluting the Internet

May 17, 2010 | By | 13 Replies More

My pet peeve today is Answers.com, which runs “WikiAnswers” (I refuse to link to these sites). They are apparently run by marketing geniuses who founded these deplorable companies thanks to the ability to have their vapid link-less “answers” appear high up on Google searches. I have learned my lesson, though–no more will I follow a Google page to these sites. They have quite clearly been created to gain market share by jamming key words into barely thought-out “answers.” In short, the idea is to pump the sites full of link-barren word-salad garbage authored by know-nothings purely for the purpose of selling ads. I base this opinion on reading dozens of such “articles,” but no more. I’m finished with answers.com. I refuse to be one of the 54 million monthly visitors to these sites any more.

Barely better is ehow.com, which has published one million articles. I’ve got to give a little bit of credit to ehow, however. At least you’ll find at least ONE link in these barely helpful “articles.” The end result is always the same, however. Thousands of ehow “articles” are dashed off in one sitting by non-experts who are whoring their writing skills so that ehow can gain market share for its buckets of ads–enough ads to take in $200,000,000 in revenue in 2009. Consider an example – do you think that this took more than five minutes to write? Do you think anyone reading this article didn’t know how to shop at a grocery store, but now knows? Here is the inside scoop on ehow published by Time Magazine. In this article, we learn that the authors of ehow articles are paid between $3 – 15. And it shows. Don’t trust me on this. Go take a look.

By the way, the above article about ehow was written by a guy named “Dan Fletcher” who seems to crank out an endless stream of tiny articles for Time (plug his name into Time’s search field and you’ll see what I mean). It’s quantity over quality for Dan, who sometimes writes 5-10 articles in one day for Time. I’m sure that he’s thinking, “Well, it’s a living.”

I know that the Internet doesn’t belong to anyone in particular. People have the right to write anything they want and I have the right to try to not read articles that are created solely for the purpose of filling web pages with keywords that attract Google. More and more, however, serious sites are being shoved downwards on Google’s results pages by keyword laden ad-machines that are portraying themselves to be journalistic endeavors, and it’s a shame.

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Category: Internet, Writing

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (13)

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  1. Ben says:

    I have had (great) success with "about.com".

  2. Lori says:

    One example of the informational dilution of the Internet is called the 'webstacle.'

    http://informationandaccess.blogspot.com/feeds/34

    http://demo.manifold.net/doc/gis_and_networking.h

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    I learned late in grade school to shop for reliable information sources. E.G: I quickly learned to use Britannica rather than the school-supplied World Book encyclopedia, when I wanted any depth.

    One pervasive new form of illiteracy is Internet Gullibility. Most people use a preferred portal and accept whatever answers they receive. There is currently an exponential rise in the proportion of nonsense over sense on the internet.

    As internet-raised kids enter the teaching arena, we can hope that they will help the next generation understand how to find good answers. That is, answers that have been demonstrably tested and proven, as opposed to answers that are easy or feel right.

    Sure, wiki-like sites such as answers.com are part of the problem. But I hope that the function of editors and librarians will eventually translate from their old domains to the internet, to help sift the wheat from the chaff. Not to censor, but to have portals that give reliable guidance.

    Of course, some might argue that Fox News or the Discovery Institute already nominally perform such functions. Oh well, you can't educate all of the people all of the time.

  4. rachel locke says:

    And i guess Google has no incentive to adjust their rankings?

  5. michael says:

    I've been watching, over the last couple of years, as my favorite special-interest boards have become saturated with new instant experts to the point where they aren't worth following any more. Computers for everyone does have its downside.

  6. Mark Matiszik says:

    Why are you entitled to have Google exist and to provide good or bad content? You're not paying for anything, and are instead using the internet hoping to find answers that someone was nice enough to leave for you.

    I believe that many have a mistaken belief that the internet is inherently altruistic. People expect to be able to get information for free and also with little thought or effort, simply because someone "wanted to share their expertise with the greater community".

    As the saying goes, "There's no such thing as a free lunch."

    Google is algorithm-driven, and is losing the battle to keep companies from gaming their system. Would you instead be willing to pay for access to a search engine that is vetted to provide good answers? If not, then is your pet peeve really justified?

    I seem to remember my family's set of encyclopedias costing quite a bit, but at least we then had a good source of information which we deserved to have since we had paid for it.

    There is an option on the horizon – in a few years (months?), you may be asking all your questions via a Facebook search in order to get answers from people that are rated for their relevance by other people. However, even in that case remember that nothing is free, because you'll be paying for your access to that information with a reduction in your privacy rather than cash.

  7. Mark Matiszik says:

    Erich, Where are my manners?

    When I implied that no one on the internet really shared their thoughts and content altruistically, I meant to add "present company on this site excluded, of course."

  8. Dan Klarmann says:

    "Sorting by relevance"? As I stated before, there is not yet any system for ranking sources of information. Google tried using incoming links as a metric for "relevance" half a dozen years ago. That fiasco bred an industry of link exchanges that took the Goog over a year to get filtered out. Yet this (now moot) industry is still thriving. I ignore several requests to link from my sites to other sites every day. About once a week I get an offer to sell me links.

  9. A'Llyn Ettien says:

    Wired had a story about people cranking out barely-relevant posts in response to frequently-searched terms a while back. It was kind of interesting.

    http://www.wired.com/magazine/tag/ehow/

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Thank you, A'Llyn. I checked out your link, and this depresses me. "[Ehow] publishes more than 4,000 articles and videos a day, and makes millions of dollars selling premium advertising based on the search terms." Those who run these sites are talking about this keyword targeted garbage supposedly as an attempt to "supplant journalism." Sheeesh.

      And check out this quote:

      "The company’s ambitions are so enormous as to be almost surreal: to predict any question anyone might ask and generate an answer that will show up at the top of Google’s search results. To get there, Demand is using an army of Muñoz- Donosos to feverishly crank out articles and videos. They shoot slapdash instructional videos with titles like “How To Draw a Greek Helmet” and “Dog Whistle Training Techniques.” They write guides about lunch meat safety and nonprofit administration. They pump out an endless stream of bulleted lists and tutorials about the most esoteric of subjects."

      And then take a deep breath and consider the volume of this onslaught. The following pertains to merely one of these modern attempts at "journalism," a company called "Demand":

      "Demand will be publishing 1 million items a month, the equivalent of four English-language Wikipedias a year."

      And wait until you read about Richard Rosenblatt, the founder of Demand.

      I'm officially depressed.

  10. Ben says:

    Erich, don't worry about what others think about what you think about what others think about what you think about others.

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