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Search Engines Breed Worthless 'Original Content'? 218

Carl Bialik writes to tell us the Wall Street Journal has an interesting look at how search engines and original content are affecting the quality of the web. From the article: "If there is a topic in the news, people will be searching on it. If you can get those searchers to land on a seemingly authoritative page you've set up, you can make money from their arrival. Via ads, for instance. Then, to get your site ranked high in search engines, it's best to have "original content" about whatever the subject of your site happens to be. The content needs to include all the keywords that people might search for. But it can't be just an outright copy of what's on some other site; you get penalized for that by search engines."
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Search Engines Breed Worthless 'Original Content'?

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  • -A-ffecting not -E-ffecting.

    Grrrrr..
    • Actually, I would say that search engines might well be effecting the content of the web. Had there been no Yahoo! back in the day, would the Web have taken off the way it did? Without search engines would we still be all on USENET and gopherspace?
    • This is the internet we are talking about. You have to have a lowercase i or e infront of everything.

      Like eFecting or iFecting.
    • Sorry. You've assummed that english, and english speakers and writers, follows a strict set of rules. It doesn't.

      If enough people use effecting in the sense that they previously would have use affecting, then effecting will mean affecting, and it is no longer "wrong" to use 'effect' in this way.
      • I find it ironic that the fellow with reference to 'maths' in his id and .sig is lecturing another pedant on the inevetability of semantic drift.

        As for the subject at hand: I refuse to make excuses for people too lazy to speak or write correctly. Two words have been established, 'affect' and 'effect' and they have different meanings. Using one word in place of the other is either ignorance or apathy. And you know the difference between ignorance and apathy right?

        "I don't know, and I don't care".

      • It seems to me a bit more intelligent to form your communication based on how the living will receive it, rather than priding yourself on how people might speak when you are long since dead.
      • While this is true, the actual mechanism of a "grammar shift", as far as it is understood, is much more a very wide-spread sudden change, rather than people gradually becoming too lazy to remember which word is what. Also, they almost never combine two words into one (affect/effect becoming interchangeable) but rather alters the context of a word ("Bob likes Jane" 600 years ago meant what "Jane likes Bob" means today).
      • we have all heard of the proposal to make Pi=3.0, right? After all, if enough people decide that it should be so instead of some sequence of irrational digits then we can have it that way, right?
  • Frist pots (Score:2, Funny)

    by Merdalors ( 677723 )
    effecting the quality of the web

    Yes, I'm effraid the web has been effected enough already.

  • by numbski ( 515011 ) * <numbski AT hksilver DOT net> on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @12:39PM (#14827334) Homepage Journal
    It's because you want to cheat the system and get ranked highly to begin with.

    If you were truly "popular", you wouldn't have to worry about worthless original content.

    Case in point...the word "Numbski" isn't a terribly popular term. If you google it, it's pretty safe that you'll find me, and my website, along with a base understand of who I am and what I do.

    The same goes for George W. Bush, or "Wall Street Journal".

    Now, if I just made up a company name right now....let's see....Framboozleweisenschnapps.

    Nope, no hits. I want that company to program open source software.

    Of course if someone goes searching for open source software no one is going to find your company. However if you get out there and do the work, when you do online articles, post your company's name, and the work you do is evident in the online content, with time, you WILL bubble to the top.

    That's the problem. An entire world full of people, people competing in similar businesses, all wanting to be in the first 10 hits of a google search.

    Quit crying. Quit trying to cheat the system and LIVE.

    "Faith without works is about as useless as a screen door on a submarine."

    Have faith in the system, do your work, do it honestly.
    • "Faith without works is about as useless as a screen door on a submarine."
      "Analogies are like undergraduates. They can't all be clever" -- Mike Slackernerny, PhDComics [phdcomics.com]
    • Case in point...the word "Numbski" isn't a terribly popular term. If you google it, it's pretty safe that you'll find me, and my website, along with a base understand of who I am and what I do. The same goes for George W. Bush, or "Wall Street Journal".

      Quite right: Google has a very good understanding of what search terms should link to George W. Bush [google.com].

    • It's because you want to cheat the system and get ranked highly to begin with.


      Well said. What most companies don't seem to realise is that they have no right to be the first listing on google. They're just not that special, when everyone is making content.
    • That's the problem. An entire world full of people, people competing in similar businesses, all wanting to be in the first 10 hits of a google search.

      So, it's....uh...competition?

      I hear what you are saying but it seems to me that "being in the top 10" is PART of the competitive landscape, no? If it wasn't important to anyone's success, then it wouldn't be an issue. But clearly, it IS important. And that's why we have all these shenanigans to deal with.

      It's really the same in the offline world
      • Google needs to do a better job of weeding out the ilk but I don't see a technical way that they can do that. Does anyone? How would you code to recognize the difference between an original source and a rehash of the exact same material (with different wording)?

        Hmm. How about tracking the apparent age of any webs of links that point to that content? Or, for a more generalized credibility checkup, look at the domain registration. Does the .com also own the .net, .us, .info, etc? Are the domains registered
    • It's because you want to cheat the system and get ranked highly to begin with.

      If you were truly "popular", you wouldn't have to worry about worthless original content.

      But it goes deeper than that. It's the fact that people are unoriginal. They can't be bothered or are too ignorant of the facts to formulate their own opinion, so they promulgate information that is not their own, adding a few bits of meaningless fluff to it to make it just different enough. It's the "Me Too" phenomenon writ all over the

    • Of course, there are easier ways to trick people into landing on your site. Apparently just taking out an ad for your site with the keywords "download firefox" is enough to confuse some people [scripting.com] and get them to think you're the official Firefox download site.

      This, I think, lends a bit more credence to Jakob Nielsen's anti-search diatribe [useit.com] earlier this year.

      All that said, I agree with your point that in the long run, it's easier and more effective to write good content and do the necessary promotion than it is
    • Considering the thousands of people competing for top rank wouldn't it make sense for google to do a simple "All these pages match the term Y very well, so if your pagerank is above X randomize the output" That way if you searched "Liberal Blog" all the top liberal blogs would randomly be placed, following them would be page ranked junk..
    • The thing is, that description seems to fit About.com. Very often, it ranks high in my searches but it is almost a worthless rehash of what I already knew. I wish I could block them out of my searche results by default without having to add search terms, as I know they most likely won't have what I want.
    • Have faith in the system, do your work, do it honestly.

      The problem is that many/most people work the system backwards.

      In other words, its the eternal ends vs means thing. For some reason, people equate money or desired goods with happiness and success. Few people realize that humans are social animals, and real joy (and money) comes from doing good things for people, and they gladly pay you for it.

      Deception and greed will get you nowhere. The only benefit is that you are so busy being selfish and keeping
    • While I agree with you on moral grounds...your wish is pure fantasy. There will always be people who break the rules, and unless you are some of the top people in your industry...you might have to as well in order to compete with them. Its a slippery slope.

  • Site rating (Score:2, Interesting)

    by metaltoad ( 954564 )
    How can we avoid this? I think that human rating of sites either by administrators or general users could vastly improve the situation. Imagine being able to rate a site based on how well it matched your search.
    • Like DMOZ? [dmoz.org]
    • Re:Site rating (Score:2, Interesting)

      by blogeasy ( 674237 )
      Sounds a lot like social bookmarking or sites like the del.icio.us bookmarking site. I think eventually there will be some integration of this type of "voting" for sites by humans to help improve the search results. Also, some of the search engines are tracking which results people actually click on as well.
    • Why would we want to? 90% of the time my first-page search results are relevant. Good enough for me. It seems, like was said previously, that this amounts to companies whining that they aren't the first result.

      Most bad results come from bad search strings. Its amazing the amount of people who don't know how to search.
  • I recall the situation where your page references another page which referenced another page which referenced another page... which referenced your page in the first place. So where's the original content?

    by making sure the original content gets listed first, the pages listed are less garbage and more content. Otherwise, the web runs the risk of becoming a collection of copied content where the original is lost.
  • Search Engines Breed Worthless 'Original Content'?

    The worthless original content in my Journal [slashdot.org] is all my own thank you very much.

    • When they wrote "worthless original content" I was thinking of the average blog. Good thing my blog isn't average :-P [I delude myself in my spare time.]

      I have seen odd searches though bring people to my site because I'm one of the few people who've talked about Peter Mansbridge, and posted pictures of small town Saskatchewan, and mouldy yogurt.
  • by ArsenneLupin ( 766289 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @12:43PM (#14827390)
    In fact, search engines are more like a TV camera crew let loose in the middle of a crowd of rowdy fans after a game. Seeing the camera, everyone acts boorishly and jostles to get in front. The act of observing something changes it.

    Now, everybody get on to wikipedia, and vandalize the Schroedinger's_cat [wikipedia.org] article as much as you can!

    • I believe you meant to say Heisenburg's [wikipedia.org] page.
      • I believe you meant to say Heisenburg's page.

        Looks like you were not uncertain about the spelling of his name.

        Does wikipedia have to use redirects for every misspelling there is? It's "Hindenburg" and "Heisenberg"!

      • Hawthorne Effect (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sad Loser ( 625938 ) *

        The Heisenberg Effect is a good geeky example, but the correct/ relevant the social sciences equivalent is the Hawthorne Effect. [wikipedia.org]
        • Thank you for catching this one - not enough people seem to know about the Hawthorne Effect by name, but it comes up more often in "life" (non-quantum) than the Heisenberg Effect.
    • The act of observing something changes it.

      Now, everybody get on to wikipedia, and vandalize the Schroedinger's_cat article as much as you can!

      You know, without following that link, I have no idea if it has happened yet or not. =)
  • Doesn't the Google Page Rank display on their toolbar help with this problem?

    Unless you have some way of ranking a page, this may continue to be a problem.
    • by garcia ( 6573 )
      Doesn't the Google Page Rank display on their toolbar help with this problem?

      Unless you have some way of ranking a page, this may continue to be a problem.


      I would guess that most people here don't use IE and thus don't have a need for Google's Toolbar and as such don't see what ranking the page has.
  • Sure search engines help people find your content, but they aren't the only or even key reason why this is on the rise. Search engines have been around since roughly the beginning of the web's popular usage. What's new these days is how easy it is to do two things: publish and advertise.

    Publishing via blogs is ridiculously simple, and it's so interlinked that it naturally plays into the latest search enging ranking methods.

    Advertising, thanks to Google Adsense (not due to Google search :)), as well as oth
  • Yes, this creation of worthless content for money is disgusting. People should be more like me - I blog, and create worthless content for free.
  • All of this blather about getting your site ranked by the search engines, adviews, and people setting up sites just to get ad revenue so companies can sell products to people who don't really want them is a sickness.

    Companies are so interested in this week's figures that they forget to make good stuff that people want. It's way easier to listen to some parasuit telling you in 50 buzzwords or less that he can make you lots of money right now.

    And it's easier to plagiarize, change the wording here and there,
  • Let's call a spade a spade here. 42% of Google's revenues come from AdSense, their program of putting ads on third-party websites. This will amount to about $3 Billion this year (projected, based on past growth).

    Google is making it easy and profitable for people to engage in such behavior. The payments to AdSense participants are done via legal means (checks); hence Google has the ability to track down the offenders and sue them; and yet there has not been a single such case filed by Google for AdSense ab

    • What 'fraud' has been committed, and why can Google sue?

      If you mean that websites are breaking copyright laws, that's not Google's problem, until the original copyright owner notifies them.
    • As somebody else has already commented, cases have been brought.

      Google also outright bans, or refuses payment, to people who seem to have an exceptionnaly high click rate, especially bloggers (go to any blog exchange to find people moaning about it).

    • I know I'm going to get modded down by the Google fanboys in this crowd, but please put down the koolaid and think about it.

      I'm a Google fanboy, but am not affected by your post in the least. I hate koolaid.

      Google has no authority to sue for fraud, that is a criminal thing, not a civil one. Google has worked hard against scamming SEO people, and its a cat and mouse game. Remember how Google.de unlisted bmw.de from their search engine? No lawsuit required. AFAIK, every business has the right to choose w
    • Google is making it easy and profitable for people to engage in such behavior. The payments to AdSense participants are done via legal means (checks); hence Google has the ability to track down the offenders and sue them; and yet there has not been a single such case filed by Google for AdSense abuse.

      You and the author are full of beans. The author claims that Google encourages wholesale plagiarism, which is nonsense. You are claiming Google has a way of detecting said plagiarism and knowingly profits f

  • by Shreav ( 195174 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @01:04PM (#14827628) Homepage
    "how search engines and original content are effecting the quality of the web."

    I'm sorry for doing this, but the word you're looking for is 'affecting', not 'effecting'.

    'Affect [reference.com]' is a verb, as in "search engines affect the quality of information on the web".

    'Effect [reference.com]' is a noun, as in cause-and-effect: "the effect that search engines have on the quality of information on the web is ...".

    Actually, I'm not sorry. They're two different words with two different meanings. What I meant is that I don't mean you any personal insult.

    • Sometime between main page and clicked link, they fixed it. :-\
    • 'Affect' is a verb, as in "search engines affect the quality of information on the web".

      'Effect' is a noun, as in cause-and-effect: "the effect that search engines have on the quality of information on the web is ...".

      I agree that the word he wanted was "affecting".

      That said, there are perfectly legitimate uses of "affect" as a noun, and of "effect" as a verb. Using "affect" as a noun is mostly restricted to psychologists, but "effect" as a verb is reasonably widespread -- for example, a person mi

    • Grammar nazi prewarning.

      Not to mention bring and take, as in the university laptop article earlier today.

      You take to somewhere, you bring something along with you.

      You don't bring something to somebody. This is _wrong_ "Bring this to your boss." The correct is "Take this to your boss." Bring is a passive verb, take is an active one.

      The vocabulary of people has at least halved or more over the past 100 years. It seems as though they can use the right words and put them in the right order. Also, our langu
    • Oh wait, you were using the contraction for it is - which is perfectly valid, even if it doesn't look right. Wonder how many grammer nazis impulsively wanted to correct you for using an apostrophe in its...
  • "Slashdot Breeds Worthless 'Original Content'?"
  • The overwhelming amount of information being recirculated, only serves to reinforce the law of diminishing marginal utility [wikipedia.org].
    This means that only those top ranked sites will be of any value.
  • The quality of the Web is not affected by adding poor content. The reason is the Web is not really a single thing in the way that a novel is. You do not consume the Web as a whole like reading a book but rather pick out the content which is of interest to you. The quality of Web you get is determine by you as the Web as a whole has everything from the absolute worthless to pure gold.
  • by Jerry Coffin ( 824726 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @01:17PM (#14827764)
    So let's see. This story comes down to the fact that people are generally lazy, so given a choice, they'll try to accomplish their goal as easily as possible. What an amazing revelation!

    What's amazing to me is that a newspaper reporter would have the gall to try to act like this is anything new or different at all.

    The reality is that the vast majority of the "original content" in the average newspaper has (for decades) been created in nearly the same way. The majority of what they publish is no more than mildly edited versions of stories coming from outside sources. Most "business news" is no more than very mildly edited versions of press releases -- in fact, press releases often come with prewritten stories for the papers (and magazines, etc.) to publish. They'll often even have two or three stories to cover the "event" from a business angle, a human angle, etc. They'll make sure they throw in versions of a couple of different lengths as well, so it's trivial for the newspaper to carry it no matter how much or little space they need to fill.

    So what's really new here? About all I can think of is the fact that the web makes a lot of it much more transparent. It's much easier for most people to look at a dozen web sites and see they're all carrying essentially identical stories than for somebody reading a newspaper in Minnesota to see that people reading different newspapers in Alabama, California, and London are all reading essentially identical stories, each with a different "reporter's" name in the by-line.

  • by DeveloperAdvantage ( 923539 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @01:17PM (#14827766) Homepage
    I thought a large portion of google's ranking was based on how many other pages linked to your web page. If this is the case, then just having "original" content and a few key words really should not make that big of a difference in page rankings. Perhaps this article itself was just copied from somewhere and is not accurate?
  • Has this guy ever heard of tabloid journalism? Paparazzi? How about the National Enquirer? Maybe People Magazine? Their are plenty of rags in this country and around the world that regularly print content that is at BEST unsubstantiated gossip, sometimes outright made up stories. Why do they print this? To make money and sell advertisments for x-ray glasses and boob creme.

    Even TV has it's 'news magazines' that contain questionable content. Ever watch "A Current Affair"? Making up bogus content to
  • Now, Wikipedia doesn't make money, and it's far from worthless, but to a large extent it is the perfect example of the kind of reprocessed content Lee Gomes is describing. Being edited by dedicated volunteers, Wikipedia can "afford" to do this on a large scale.

    Wikipedia articles tend to rank quite high in search results... and, being GFDL'ed, Wikipedia's articles are copied by dozens of other mirror sites.

    The scary result of all this is that I want to check a fact or find independent confirmation of an item
    • "mirror detection" would be nice.. and if google already has that, then "better mirror detection" would be nice. So it can group all those together and you can still say "find me one that /works/", but they wont all be the same thing.
  • Often I search for something in Google, and the top 5 results INCLUDING the sponsored link are all websites that simply take your keywords and generate a list of links to other websites or perform their own searches. I mean, how on earth can Google give top ranking to websites that generate content on the fly?

    Google was very quick to make an example out of BMW for artificially inflating their page ranking, but, I mean, BMW is an original content provider. I don't understand how Google can allow these spam
  • SEO is copy that is written to do nothing but passibly weave some keywords into a passage ostensibly about some subject.

    Search on elance for copy writers. It's nothing but offers for people to write 20 500 word 'articles' about a subject for 100 bucks.

    I don't remember if they supply you with the keywords to include in your copy or not. That might be what makes a good SEO writer v. a bad SEO writer.

    SEO means 'Search Engine Optimized' which means 'Generic pablum that has all the important keywords a few times
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @01:36PM (#14828011)
    I see one danger in this hunt for "original content". Given the need that you have to have original AND if at all possible alarming content, people will start fabricating stories out of the blue, even more than they do already.

    Research costs time, and time's a scarce commodity in a medium that thrives on speed. The FIRST to have the story in will have his side read. Not the one who got all his facts right.

    So what we'll get to see are poorly, if at all, researched stories that will maybe, or not, get a revocation later. And I bet my rear that that revoc will not be high on the search engine index lists. I kinda doubt they'll META it with any relevant and a few irrelevant tags to get high level hits. Not to mention that few will link to it.

    What I can forsee is that "truth" becomes what has the most support. Not what is really true.

    Yes, even more than currently.
    • Hm, I don't usually search for news, and, frankly, I don't know anyone who does. What I search for is usually way more static and I don't care whether it is three years old, if it's the best hit to my search terms. My news are gathered from state television (in germany they go to great lengths to ensure being independent of the government, works surprisingly well), reuters.com, the cnn breaking-news feed (usually just good for a laugh) and a few other sources, depending on the topic I'm interested in (BBC,
    • What I can forsee is that "truth" becomes what has the most support. Not what is really true.

      You mean like intelligent design being taught in classrooms? *ducks*

  • Then, to get your site ranked high in search engines, it's best to have "original content" about whatever the subject of your site happens to be. The content needs to include all the keywords that people might search for.
    Then, if you want to get your site ranked higher, it's best to have "links" from trustworthy sites to your "original content". And in order to get that, you probably need "higher quality".

    So what's the problem?
    • So what's the problem?

      The problem is that on Slashdot, if you're a marketer, you're evil until proven otherwise.

      Of course, once you start up your own company and are competing against the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Sun, et. al., you realize that those competitors have tons of content on their sites, and thousands of inbound links, and all you have is a great product. So if you're smart, you'll start developing new content of your own that showcases your product, goes into detail about why the underlying

  • It used to be if you had these things called 'dollars', you got more attention. Dollars let rent other people's time. You could rent it directly, by subsidizing their entertainment (TV ads) or indirectly, by hiring people to go out and get attention drawn to you (marketing).

    Now, you can just spend time if you don't have dollars, and get more attention.

    Or, you can spend the time getting dollars, to pay other people to get more attention.

    So in some ways, search just removed the middleman. The issue is whet
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @02:54PM (#14828943) Homepage
    In the article, the author wrote that he was hired to write copy to plug "colloidial silver". Google's first hit for "colloidial silver" is currently Quackwatch [quackwatch.org]. "Colloidal Silver: Risk Without Benefit". "Long-term use of silver preparations can lead to argyria, a condition in which silver salts deposit in the skin, eyes, and internal organs, and the skin turns ashen-gray." They have pictures.

    Google 1, search engine spammers 0.

  • Ultimately, I believe that there is human intervention in many areas of the Google index. They know that a site like Wikipedia has premium content, and therefore it should not get outsmarted via SEO in many areas. I suspect there is some type of hidden weight ranking on a per-site or per-domain basis that helps offset what these traffic monetizing groups are doing.

  • The act of observing something changes it ,

    This is part of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and it applies to competitive capitalism.

    I hope that the followers of John Nash, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_nash [wikipedia.org] , will someday publish an analysis of Google from a perspective of Game theory. (Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that studies strategic situations where players choose different actions in an attempt to maximize their returns.)

    The people who can grok Google will become very weal
  • What you really need to worry about is when companies Google-bomb the index in order to push "bad" info about their products 20-30+ pages down in the listings.

    For example, a couple of months ago, my husband's sister called us to complain that her newish Dell has taken to running slowly, with close to 100% CPU utilization at all times. Our immediate response: malware. Our question: what did you install prior to this problem? Her answer: Party Poker.

    I pop over to Google and search for "party poker" malware; "

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