The content found through companies such as Demand Media and Associated Content is like "fast food," according to a panelist at the mesh conference. "It's convenient and cheap to get, but too much is bad for you."
This analogy was levied at yesterday's mesh session when the speakers were asked to categorize the content disseminated through Demand Media, Associated Content (an online publisher of original content, not just news) and, to a lesser extent, Seed.com. Judy Sims, digital media consultant and former Vice President, Digital Media for the Toronto Star Media Group, began the talk by calling out the articles and videos produced by Demand Media writers.
Likening the content to fast food, Sims then went on to explain why Demand is gaining such prominent attention: the company finds out what people are searching for online and then asks its writers to create content relating to those topics, whether how to tip on cruise vacations or gardens in Italy. (They are also the number-one provider of videos to YouTube).
Panelist Chris Anderson, Assistant Professor of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island, said he hopes content sites such as Demand and Associated Content aren't the future. "But as long as traditional journalism is in this deep economic crisis and as long as those problems aren't solved, this kind of stuff can become a bigger percentage of the media ecosystem."
Anderson's statement was practically prophetic: moments later, moderator Matthew Ingram mentioned he just heard Yahoo! had bought Associated Content for a reported price tag of $100 million. A few gasps were heard rippling across the room.
Sims pointed out Demand Media's articles do have a place in newspapers. She mentioned the recent deal between Demand and USA Today -- Demand's travel articles will feature in the paper's travel section. According to PaidContent, USA Today is getting the content free, but it’s sharing the ad revenue with Demand. "It's smart because as a reader I don't need to read a a huge feature on cruise-tipping protocol but maybe only 200 words. This frees up USA Today's reporters to do other things."
Jeff Anders, CEO of The Mark, discussed the opposite end of the "content farm" spectrum. His Toronto-based company only produces high-quality content, Anders told the mesh audience, and their 800-plus contributors include former prime ministers, scientists and other leading authorities.
The Mark has funded itself via venture capital and advertising, Anders said, and they plan on seeking additional revenue sources such as producing live events and syndication.
Anders' company also values SEO techniques shared by the likes of Demand and Associated Content, . "We try to make our headlines controversial so they rank high on Google searches," he said. "It's great to have high-quality content but you need people to view it."
An audience member at Toronto's mesh conference asking a question of panelists. Organizer/moderator Matthew Ingram looks on
Sims said sites such as Associated and Demand want to steer clear of news because "advertisers are interested in more than just news." She's noticed how AOL's Seed and Demand stay away from topical subjects, even the Tiger Woods scandal.
Anderson poses a semi-rhetorical question at the end. "How do you get 80 percent quality content at 10 percent of the cost? It's a race to the bottom, it seems, but maturity will eventually occur."
For other DigitalJournal.com coverage of mesh 2010, check out the report on social media in newsrooms.